We decided to bypass some of the attractions in the eastern part of South Dakota this trip, saving them for our next trip west when we take on North Dakota and some Canadian provinces next year.
But western South Dakota still has much to offer. One place every traveler has to stop at is the town of Wall, SD. Wall isn't known for very much, except for the famous tourist trap of Wall Drug. Truth be told, we didn't see a single thing that resembled a drug store at Wall Drug, but there were plenty of overpriced and bargain souvenirs in a series of connected stores on both sides of the main street. Moccasins, Black Hills gold jewelry, pens, pocket knives, t-shirts, hats and all manner of trinkets and trash designed to relieve unwary travelers of their hard-earned cash.
And of course, food. Continuing my quest to depopulate the buffalo and bison herds in South Dakota, I of course order yet another buffalo burger. And since they pretty much have a captive audience in Wall, the prices aren't cheap. Barbara's and my lunch came to $45. However, it WAS a buffalo bacon burger, so I was OK with that cost.
After a quick refueling to top off the Mini, we scouted out a potential boondocking site just 6 miles down the road from Wall. Known as “The Wall at the Badlands”, it is a tract of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land on a cliff overlooking the Badlands section of the Black Hills. The view is absolutely majestic. We had planned to stop there for a couple of days after leaving Rapid City, but temperatures were expected to be in the '90's both days, and we really didn't want to have to run our generator all day long just to keep the motor home comfortable. No problem; we'll be back in cooler temps.
During our earlier foray into Custer State Park, we drove past Sylvan Lake. Beautiful rock formations in and around the lake, and Sylvan Lake has a bit of history to it. If you're familiar with the 'National Treasure' movies starring Nicholas Cage, in 'National Treasure 2', near the end of the movie where the cast is searching for the secret entrance of the location to the lost treasure, they are searching a rock formation overlooking a lake. The rock formations and lake in that scene are surrounding Lake Sylvan!
It's not a very big lake, but it is absolutely beautiful to view in person. So out comes our inflatable kayak and an hour and a half of weaving in and out of rocks and traveling under five and six story cliffs. Great way to spend a morning. If you want to enjoy Sylvan Lake, go early in the day. It's a very popular destination for adults and kids, and offers kayaks for rent, a small beach for access to the lake, and hiking trails.
One of our off days found us staying put in the 36LA due to potential thunderstorms in the area. If you watched out last video, you saw a small hailstorm on our trip down from Custer State Park. Apparently hail is much more prevalent in the Great Plains than we've been used to on the East Coast, because while I was outside talking with one of our neighbors in the RV park, I hear some sharp reports all around us. A closer look showed them to be hailstones, and they're becoming a LOT bigger than the little versions that hit our Mini in the last video
And they're becoming much more plentiful. And bigger still.
I dive into the RV, abandoning my neighbor, and experience what it's like to be in a very large drum. Looking outside, I see golf ball-sized hailstones hitting the ground, and hear them hitting my roof! Fortunately, we suffered no damage, although my neighbor had the dome above his shower cracked by one.
Continuing my golf quest across the country, I schedule a round of golf at a course just outside Ellsworth AFB just east of Rapid City. It's ironic that I'm playing on an Air Force base golf course. It confirms the old joke about how do you build an Air Force base; first you build the golf course . . . LOL. Anyway, it was a pretty nice course open to the public consisting of nine holes. My golf game was off that day, not because of the lack of playing time I've had recently, but because of the weather. Take a look at the screen shot of the wind conditions during my round. Tough day!
Our last venture out was a trip to the town of Deadwood; another tourist trap north and west of our location, and a nearby meet and greet with Facebook friends Bill and Virginia Goldman. Had a wonderful dinner and drinks, and confirmed once again that fellow Tiffin owners are some of the nicest people on earth. Bill has one of the first Liquidspring installs on his Open Road 32SA, and was the one who got me interested in making sure our 36LA was equipped with it. We're both looking forward to the front-end solution being made available soon.
Out time in South Dakota had come to an end, and it was time to head back to our ultimate destination back to Georgia, but first we need to get there. Nebraska awaits!
Speed run from Tennessee complete, we settle into our site at Lazy JD RV Park just northwest of Rapid City, SD. It's a small park with about 25-30 spaces, fairly level lots with two sections; one with gravel pads separated by grassy patio areas, and one section with grass-only sites. They also utilize the shared patio concept where your hookups are in the center of two sites. You pull into your site and your neighbor on the driver's side pulls into his in the opposite direction. If you're traveling with another couple you get to have your patio face their patio so that socializing is easier. The utilities are staggered towards the “front” of one shared site and the “back” of the next so that you're not exiting your door at your neighbor's door, so it works out well even if you're not traveling with someone you know. They have a laundry room and bathrooms, but that's about it for amenities. Very basic campground, but nicely situated to take day trips to the Rapid City area and points north and west. And very quiet, unlike other parks nearby that are right on the interstate.
Lazy JD only takes cash or checks, so be prepared beforehand. Also, you pretty much get to pick your own site(s); just pull in and hook up. They come around after a while to settle up your payment. Don't know if it was because they were fairly empty or whether that's the usual case. We had called ahead before leaving our previous park to make sure they had space available for the July 4th weekend, and the “pick your spot” rule was in effect, even for our two-week stay.
We had hoped for some cooler temperatures being this far north, but the heat has been murderous pretty much every day of our first week here. Not having trees overhead makes it very difficult for our 36LA to cool off much below 85 degrees, even with the 15k BTU A/C going all afternoon long in the front. And our second week here doesn't look to be any cooler.
But still, we have things to see and work to accomplish, and a Mini Cooper convertible to drive that helps us enjoy the sunny and hot weather.
First up is the obligatory drive through Custer State Park, about a hour south of where we're situated. An easy drive down some very nice state roads gets us to the main entrance of the park. There are no day passes to purchase at Custer State Park; only weekly and yearly passes. Some folks don't like to spend the $20 to buy a weekly pass, but given all the things you can do in Custer State Park it is a great value, as it will take at least 3-5 days (if not more) to see everything that is worth seeing. Our drive on just the Wildlife Loop Road took the better part of a day!
And what a drive! Two different herd of buffalo that blocked our path and were spread out across both sides of the road. Grover was tethered in the back seat of the Mini with our top down, and he wasn't having anything to do with these hairy behemoths looking in and staring at the strange car and people. He stared at them, but knew this wasn't the time to establish any dominance! Later on a group of burros were holding court while people fed them carrots and apples. Finally, a group of deer hunkered down in an area trying to find some shade from the Sun's rays. All encapsulated in a series of beautiful rolling hills.
While there, we decided to scope out a future destination for us later in the week. We have wanted to use our tandem inflatable kayak on trips where we'd have time enough for the material to dry before packing it away for travel, and Sylvan Lake was beckoning to us. Very busy during the day, so we figure we'll head up there real early on a weekday in order to get a parking spot. Good thing we scoped it out. Video and pictures to follow in a future post.
To finish of our first day's visit, we headed over to the Needles portion of the park to take in some majestic rock formations and take the Mini through some very narrow, very low tunnels. There is some very cool video of our visit in the file below.
Due to hot and humid conditions and the elevation involved, Custer State Park can generate some very different weather patterns at times. As we were heading down from Needles, a storm began brewing above us. After a few minutes the temperature started dropping about 15 degrees, and we began getting pelted with hail!
Fun is fun, but there was still business to be done. As we've mentioned before, Barbara and I had to apply for passports to get us into and out of Canada for planned trips next summer to the Maritime Provinces and to Alaska. Renewing can be done online, but applying for the first time needs to be done in person, and in the county of your residence. We made an appointment online at the Box Elder Post Office for Friday morning at 10, and had all our paperwork pre-filled out . You've got to produce originals AND copies of your driver's license and your birth certificates. Be ready to give up your original birth certificates temporarily to the Federal government, as they are needed for verification by confirming the seals used by local clerks of court.
Used to be that you'd get these documents back within a few weeks to a month, but with the government closing approximately 32 offices that were used to process passport applications due to the pandemic, we were warned that we might not get them back for 6 months! At this point, we're just hoping we'll see our passports in time for next summer's travels. Rhonda at the Box Elder Post Office couldn't have been nicer or more efficient, and we were out of there in less than 30 minutes; but not before being relieved of $220 for the Feds, and $100 to the Post Office for processing fees and pictures. Application complete!
The Feds just cashed our checks yesterday - less than a week from applying for the passports, which was quicker than I thought they'd be. Doubt their processing will be as quick, but you never know!
Now we can get on with Part 2 of our South Dakota adventure . . . Featuring a surprise destination on our way out of state!
3 long months.
We are now well past my time limit for staying in one place, and with COVID-19 restrictions finally being lifted across America, we think it's safe to resume traveling again. Safe, and more importantly, places have now opened so that we can stay in different states along our planned route.
Our ultimate destination for our first trip is Box Elder, South Dakota – our home base situated in Pennington County which encompasses the Rapid City area in western South Dakota. We're headed here because we need to apply for our passports in order to travel to Alaska in 2021, and we'll need to cross into Canada to make that happen. I've never had one, and Barbara's passport expired decades ago. One quirk is that you have to apply in your home county, which would be easy if you actually lived there. But since we just maintain a Personal Mail Box as a residenc, we have to travel a great distance in order to apply for ours.
But hey, it's a good reason for our first trip following lock down, so we'll take it!
Since it's sorta-kinda on our way, we decide to stop at Pigeon Forge, TN to see a friend of mine I used to work for when I worked at Jockey, Jack Simmons. Three days are planned for this portion; one to decompress from the first drive and show off our 36LA to Jack, a visit to Jockey for some new clothes, then a day for some fun and food at local eateries.
But first we have to get there.
Plugging in our destination into our trusty Co-Pilot RV GPS program, the first planned route takes us through some very twisty roads, including one complete circle at one point!
Nope. Not gonna do that one. Alternative two doesn't look so bad and is a shorter distance than Alternative 3, so I decide to take that.
Not as good of a decision as I thought it would be. The video below shows the beginning and end of our first drive in months. It has been sped up 2.5 times it's normal speed so that it won't put you to sleep, so don't think I drive this fast normally; especially in mountains and tight turns. Needless to say, it was a rude surprise!
Fortunately, my driving skills hadn't eroded in the last 3 months, and we arrived at our destination – Up The Creek RV Campground – in a bit over 4 hours. It's a very nice small park with wide, tree-covered spaces. Very level lots with concrete pads to the side with tables and chairs. Some sites even have raised fire pits instead of sitting low on the ground. It's surrounded by a small quiet creek (hence the name), but it does lack the usual amenities some people might like in a park.
While there, two other Tiffins set up shop across from us; a 2012 Breeze – Tiffin's smallest diesel model – and a 2019 Open Road 32SA – a fellow gasser. Had nice talks with both folks and shared some upgrades and hacks they might want to try. All-in-all, it was nice to visit with fellow Tiffin owners, something we hadn't done in quite a while.
Our visit with Jack was great, and after shopping we played a round of miniature golf at a course right next door to the Tanger Mall. It's not the most interesting nor challenging course out there, but it had one hole that called out to Barbara and me. Flying pigs have always been a favorite of ours, due to a line Barbara once said about the possibility of us getting married early in our courtship, and used by our best man during his toast at our wedding. Basically, when asked when we would get married (about halfway through our dating time) Barbara's answer was, “When pigs fly”. So finding a golf course with a hole that contained flying pigs was a natural for us.
Our trip to Pigeon Forge was too short to really appreciate the area, but there are lots of things we'd like to get done when return someday. And return we will. Sure, it's the definition of a tourist trap, but there are some very interesting and different attractions there that are probably not found anywhere else.
A quick breakdown at our site at Up The Creek, and it's time for a 4-day speed run to South Dakota, avoiding every city we can during this time of unrest.
After sheltering in place for 3 full months due to COVID-19 issues beyond our control, many states have reopened and this now allows us to resume travel. I have to say that while I understand how many older RVers like to do the whole snowbirding thing where they head to warmer climates for 3-6 months and park their rig in one place, I have found out during this shutdown that I am not one of them. At least not yet.
Maybe when this lifestyle isn't so new. Maybe when we're older and want to slow down a bit. But that particular type of RVing is not for me. I find sitting in one place for 2 weeks is enough to get me climbing the proverbial walls and looking for our next destination. Three months? Nope.
We originally headed back here to Georgia to get a grandson fix. We had been traveling from Texas to Arizona and finally New Mexico for the first 3 months of 2020, and Barbara was in her “I can't wait to see Jace” mode after a couple of months on the road. Added to that was that we didn't exactly enjoy some of the destinations during that trip for various reasons, and we were ready to settle down in one place for a bit in order to rest, recharge and spoil our grandson.
But it was only supposed to last for about a month at the most. Like the old joke goes, “Other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?”
A planned trip to Utah with friends was canceled. Then a hoped-for trip to New England to visit my 90 year-old Dad and some life-long friends bit the dust. A short trip to Florida to visit family never materialized. Even when things started getting better, many states on the way to our hoped-for destinations were still closed, so even if we had a place to park this thing, we couldn't get from here to there. I get that we didn't know enough about this virus to make sound decisions at first, but once we knew what we were dealing with, previously bad decisions were being compounded by reopening delays; and in our case, ignorance of the RV lifestyle.
And being sheltered in place took away any excuses I might have had to avoid getting things done around the RV. I've been blessed in our 35 years of marriage that Barbara never developed the need to put together “Honey-do” lists for me. In that regard I'm usually the one to give me chores to do, and in an RV (as most of you readers know), there is a lot of little – but important – ongoing maintenance to keep these rolling earthquakes in road-worthy shape.
So in the past month or so, we've been able to accomplish the following things:
Now, most of you wives out there are looking at this list and saying, “Except for the Relectix, my hubby could knock most of that list out in a single day”. And you'd be right.
But I'm retired.
And sheltered in place.
With four OTA TV stations to watch.
So I eased my way through this list in about the last 5 weeks. But hey, it all got done, right? And now we're ready for road again.
This next trip is going to be kind of strange. A short 3-day trip to Pigeon Forge, TN to visit a friend I used to work for, then a speed run up to Rapid City, SD to do some paperwork in our home state. Need to apply for passports in hopes that the Canadian border will be open next year. We plan to do Alaska in late summer of 2021, and possibly some of the Maritime Provinces earlier in the year. For this trip, we might spend about 3-4 weeks in various locations in South Dakota depending on what interests us.
After that, we'll make our way slowly through the corn and wheat states, seeing what they have to offer and basically biding our time until Liquidspring might be ready to launch their front-end CLASS system to compliment the rear end system we already have installed. If all goes well we'll be in Indiana for late July or early August and finished in time to head back to the Mothership – Red Bay, AL – in mid August to have the last of our warranty issues taken care of before our first year runs out. Not a lot of things, and nothing major at all except for a paint issue and a slide adjustment, so we hope the trip will be a short one, because New England beckons in September and October.
Normally, we follow the suggested routes our CoPilot RV system gives to us, but with a summer of potential unrest staring America in the face right now, we're going to be a lot more careful planning our travel around cities in the coming months. Usually we have no problem driving through small to mid-sized cities if the route looks good, and taking beltways around the bigger ones. This year will mean extended use of state road detours well outside of metropolitan areas, which will mean extra travel days and miles. It is what it is.
This will also be Grover's first extended trip in his new moveable home, so we'll see how he handles 5-6 hour drive days and a different nights in different places.
Either way, we're primed and ready for liftoff!
First, a disclaimer: We are not affiliated with Advanced Elements in any way, nor do we receive any compensation from them.
RVers will understand this, but for those who follow this blog and don't own an RV, space is ALWAYS at a premium, especially regarding storage. Sometimes it can be made a bit easier depending on the type of vehicle you tow. Roof racks, pickup truck beds and even small trailers can provide welcome relief for folks trying to bring things like bikes or boats to be used once we get to our destination.
We tow a Mini Cooper. A Mini Cooper CONVERTIBLE. No significant trunk, and the rag top doesn't allow for a roof rack.
So it's really important that we find recreational items that fit in the basement bays and storage cabinets inside our Tiffin. Now the good news is that Tiffin, unlike many other RV manufacturers, puts a great deal of thought into making sure you can stuff an inordinate amount of junk in everything they make. They even call it the “Store-It-All Guarantee”. And we've been impressed with their efforts in that regard. An earlier post on our Montague full-size folding bikes shows how great Tiffin is at making use of limited space.
But what about something for the water? Clearly, we have no ability to bring a canoe, kayak or boat with us, given our choice of tow vehicle. So it all comes down to what can be stuffed into a basement bay on our 36LA.
Enter Advanced Elements. They are one of a couple of vendors offering INFLATABLE kayaks that, when not in use, simply fold up into their own carrying bag for relatively easy storage. These are not some glorified pool toys; these are serious watercraft. Advanced Elements makes kayaks for calm waters like lakes, inlets and bays (more our style), all the way up to Class III whitewater (not a chance). They make single person kayaks as well as 2-person tandem kayaks for couples like us who like to spend time together.
We chose their Lagoon 2 tandem model. We chose it over their other tandem model in the base class due to it's simplicity. We have no need to have 3 positions for seating, as there is little chance one of us would take it out alone. The Lagoon 2 has two distinct openings for each person, as you can see in the picture below. Each seat has an inflatable bottom for super comfortable kayaking, with a semi-rigid back that provides great support. The seats lock into their respective openings to keep them from sliding around while paddling and keep the seat backs upright.
There are two primary air chambers in the Lagoon 2; both are filled by an ingenious spring valve which recesses into the opening to quickly deflate, and with a simple turn rises up and provides a lock to keep the air from escaping after you remove the filling hose. There are screw-on caps to each valve as a backup in case the valves fail. Advanced Elements offers either a double action hand pump or a bellows-type foot pump for about $15-$20 bucks, or you can buy one on your own as long as it has the right size hose opening. Our foot pump came with about 6 different tips to use when another product might need to be inflated. The coaming around each paddling position is inflated by mouth valves. All in all, it takes about 5-7 minutes to take it out of it's carrying bag, unfold it, and inflate it. And even less time to take it down and store it.
And this thing is built like an inflatable tank. The top uses two materials; a high denier Polyester Rip Stop and a PVC laminate. The inner tubes are covered with high density fabric as well. But it's the bottom of the hull that makes this so sturdy, yet packable. It is made of a flexible PVC Tarpaulin material which will protect you from the occasional underwater rock or other obstruction. The bow and stern are rigid casts that can stand up to rocky shores, and also house the control fins built into the bottom. These fins allow the Lagoon 2 to track well even in windy conditions. Our initial voyage in Lake Lanier off the boat ramp at Little Hall COE park was on a breezy day with winds gusting to 14 mph, and we had no trouble tracking straight and true.
Now to the boring but necessary specifications:
Length = 12'
Width = 34”
Weight = 37 lbs (Easy enough for me to lift into the back seat of the Mini, or into a large basement bay)
Max Capacity = 350 lbs of people or cargo
Folded size = 35” X 19” X 7” (the 7” depth does NOT take into consideration storing seats in the carrying bag)
Cost = $530
It also comes with it's own repair kit! There is also bungee deck lacing on the Lagoon 2 for storage of a small cooler, etc, and Velcro straps to hold your paddles in place. Paddles are optional, but a bit pricey beginning at $50; we went to Academy Sports and bought two 4-piece 87” Magellan paddles for about $30 each. They store much easier in the basement bay without having to use our pass-through storage. Most other paddles are two-piece and some are even a single 92” long paddle. Our Magellan paddles came in mesh storage bags about 2' high.
This is a beautiful piece of engineering, and very comfortable to use and enjoy. Using the carrying handles at each end makes it very easy for two people to carry down to the shore and launch. It moves easily through the water, and is very stable from side-to-side. Our first trip was about a mile out against the wind, and another mile back. Very easy and very enjoyable. The seat support for the bottom and back is outstanding. We showed this to a couple of other campers staying in nearby sites; one couple who has another brand of inflatable kayak and another who uses rigid, single person kayaks. They were both very impressed with the Lagoon 2 and Advanced Elements overall.
As are we. This product definitely gets two thumbs way, way up from Parental Parolees!
One month to go.
One month before our three-month shelter in place ends.
As I've written before, I get antsy when we stay anywhere for two weeks. Imagine what I'm like now that we have entered our second month in government-imposed stir, with one more month to go. It's not as if we're forced to stay in place; it's just that there's no place for us to go that has weather in which we want to stay.
Florida was closed until recently, and even now many local parks aren't open yet. Some counties are still keeping their private campgrounds closed to outsiders. We had reservations to go camping with friends in Maine over Memorial Day, but they got canceled since the state isn't opening up their campgrounds to anyone until June or July. New Hampshire is only open to residents; as if residents are somehow immune to the virus while the rest of us full-time RVers are apparently walking and driving sacks of infestation.
Even if the above states had been open, many states on the way to New England have been closed to RVers, so the trip there would have been problematic at best, if not downright impossible.
And it's a shame, given the low prices for gas right now. That would make traveling so much more inexpensive right now, in addition to helping out the local economies and RV park owners where we'd be staying.
But all that ends on the morning of the 16th of June! This bad boy will be all hooked up and ready to rocket out of Leisure Acres RV Campground. Now, if you have to be sheltered in place, Leisure Acres is a great place to be. Nice view of the pond, ducks to come by and be fed, and the people here are simply wonderful. The place is immaculately maintained. Small enough to keep things cozy. It's been nice to see our grandson and have him over every Sunday through Tuesday each week.
But we will be here for 3 full months as of June 15th, which is about 2 ½ months too long for me.
Our time in government-mandated stir has been positive in some ways. Much needed maintenance and cleaning have been done. I've installed Reflectix in all our cabinets to ward of the upcoming summer heat.
And we adopted the newest love of our lives – Grover the Lemon Beagle. They're called that due to the rare coloring on them which is just the light tan and white colors. He's about 28 lbs of cuteness wrapped up in a beagle body. We rescued him from a home where a poodle kept attacking him. Not too sure of kids, although he and Jace have become friends with all his nights staying with us. Grover is a thief – he's stolen our hearts - in just a few short weeks.
So anyway, on June 16th we'll be heading to Seveirville, TN for a few days to visit with someone I used to work for, then take our time and head over and up to South Dakota to get some much needed paperwork done. On the way, we'll hit Missouri, Iowa and Nebraska for a bit of sightseeing and hopefully some golf. Finally, we'll head back to Red Bay, Alabama in mid-August for some final warranty work before our 1-year warranty runs out. Our hope is that New England is opened back up for everyone after that so that we can visit my Dad and some long-time friends in September and October. We're still trying to figure out how to handle snowbirding this year, as we are not going to repeat last year's Georgia – Texas – Arizona – New Mexico trip this upcoming winter. Still trying to see how we can stay warm without having to stay in place for a long time.
The COVID-19 virus has caused many of us full-time RVers to find new and creative ways to pass the time, mainly because our home is no larger than 16' by 45'. This means that there really aren't many “major” projects that need to be done. Honey-do lists – even they even exist – are incredibly small. It's not as if we can finally get that new sun room or porch built that our spouse has wanted for years, right?
So how have your intrepid Parental Parolees been passing the time while sheltering in place? Thankfully, we're both healthy so we've been able to devote all our waking hours to these activities.
We hope these tips help you make it through these trying times of sheltering in place. Be safe, and be smart!
Rule #1: Don't straddle the front end of your tow dolly while driving the Mini Cooper up the ramps unless you know the hitch has been locked down. Better yet, just don't ever straddle the tow dolly.
Don't ask me how I know.
Now that I have your attention, let's move on to boondocking in a Tiffin Open Road gas model motor home.
For the uninitiated to RV living, boondocking is living off of any hookups (water, sewer and electric) for one or more days. Whatever your motor home's capacity is to store these three items is all you've got. For a Tiffin Open Road gas model, all the capacities are the same:
Freshwater: 70 gallons
Gray water (sink and shower waste) : 66 gallons
Black water (toilet waste) : 50 gallons
Propane (for cooking, heating and hot water) : 20 gallons
Gasoline (for running the generator) : 80 gallons
Now, for those who have taken the time to memorize Tiffin's brochure, you know that propane is listed as 24 gallons, but since you can only fill it to 80% of capacity, the effective capacity is 20 gallons. In addition, the supply line for gasoline for the generator is set at the ¼ tank mark, so the generator will not run if the tank gets that low. This is to ensure that you will always have gas in the tank to move the RV by not allowing you to drain it using the generator. I also inspected and filled our 4 “house” batteries with distilled water to make sure they were operating at peak efficiency before beginning this adventure.
These are the capacities and parameters we work with when boondocking. So it makes sense to approach boondocking with full freshwater, propane and gasoline and with empty black and gray tanks.
It also makes sense to remember certain rules about human water use. Gray water use is generally higher than black water use, so it pays to balance them out when boondocking. Freshwater can be added using large containers, but you still have to account for the associated waste products that entails. In short, you have to balance out ALL usage to extend your time as long as possible.
Rule #2: No matter how much anyone complains about the desert Southwest being so dry, the first thing they notice when they come back into the Southeast is that it is too muggy . . .
Our goal this last trip was to see just how long we could stay “off the grid” while still being comfortable and clean. It helps that we have a bedroom that can be closed off from our rear bathroom and or living area in order to seal in our body heat when sleeping. It also helps that we have a half bath that contains a typical RV gravity-fed toilet (which uses only as much water as is needed to do the job), in addition to our macerator-style toilet in the rear bath which uses electricity AND extra water. So except for using our shower in the rear bath, that door remained closed for the duration of our boondocking test. For informational purposes, we have the residential refrigerator installed in our 36LA.
We boondocked for just over 9 days, even though we had all the data we needed to know how successful we had been by the 7th day.
Our routine was this:
Used extra large baby wipes on non-shower days to get clean
Used dry spray shampoo to remove oil and dirt from hair.
Washed hands in cold water and soap.
Took “Navy showers” every 3rd day. This entailed wetting our bodies down, shutting off the water at the shower head, soaping down then rinsing off completely. Used the attached shower head and hose to keep water targeted and not sitting under a constant stream.
Collected cold water waiting to come out of the hot water system into a 2 gallon bucket. Used to fill our Berkey freshwater drinking system.
Washed dishes every other day, and heated water in large pot to reduce waiting for hot water at the kitchen faucet.
Rinsed soapy dishes in small plastic container, then used the soapy water to flush toilet. This is because people normally use less black water then gray water, and this way we balanced our black and gray tank usage to keep one from filling up earlier than the other.
Used paper plates to reduce water usage.
Unplugged toaster unless needed.
Only charged our iPhones and iPads when the generator was running.
Only used our 3 LED entry lights at night instead of the 8 LED ceiling lights.
Watched TV as normal; probably about 4 hours per day.
Temperatures didn't require A/C, but set front thermostat to 62 at night for front furnace.
Opened all three Fantastic fan covers during the day to reduce heat.
Reduced usage of any appliance which had a heating element (toaster, hair dryer, no space heaters at all, and minimized microwave usage).
Set front thermostat to 62 at night.
Rear furnace set to off.
Conserving gasoline for generator
Set Automatic Generator Module (AGM) to come on when house batteries got down to 12.0 volts, and only run for 2 hours if generator started.
Ran generator for 2 hours prior to bedtime to maintain charge throughout the night.
Rule #3: Your awning is pretty much a useless accessory 9 days out of 10 in the Southwest. Too windy. Sit under your slides or orient your RV to have the sun on the driver's side in the afternoon.
So what were our results? Pretty outstanding.
The data below details each days usage and environment. Your results will vary based on temperatures and comfort level.
Chosa boondocking summary
Propane High Temp Low Temp Gen usage (Hours) Overnight Hours to AGS
Day 1 91% 66 50 2.5 19
Day 2 89% 50 39 3.0 13
Day 3 87% 48 39 5.5 13
Day 4 78% 62 39 6 11
Day 5 75% 57 41 5 11.5
Day 6 72% 70 52 4 12
Day 7 70% 71 50 4 13
Totals -21% 60 (avg) 44 (avg) 4.2 hours per day (avg) 13 hours (avg)
We used 14 gallons of gasoline to run the generator, which averaged out to .4 gallons of gas per hour of generator usage.
Our freshwater tank was almost exactly at the halfway point after 7 days, and our black and gray tanks both registered 1/3rd full. That means that we could have easily gone 10 days, and probably 14 days without having to fill our water tank or empty our gray and black tanks. Propane wasn't an issue at all, and neither was gasoline. In all, we couldn't be happier with the performance of our 36LA and it's boondocking capabilities.
Rule #4: Don't even try to keep your toad clean on a regular basis when you're traveling on the road full-time. It wastes time and money, and just frustrates you the next day after getting it washed. Just accept that it will be filthy and move on to important things – like finding toilet paper.
As always, if anyone reading this has any questions about things I may not have covered, please feel free to ask them in the comments section below, or on our Facebook page.
Heading to New Mexico from Arizona, we were looking forward to some fun. Everything from beautiful natural wonders to quirky tourist traps. It also marked the beginning of our trip back East, with a planned return to Georgia (and our grandson Jace) around April 1st.
Heading east on I-10, we find ourselves in Las Cruces, NM, worming our way northward to our eventual destination of Tularosa - just 30 minutes north of White Sands National Monument. This was our first planned destination we wanted to see in New Mexico, but the weather wasn't going to co-operate for a couple of days. High winds and colder temperatures made visiting White Sands something we needed to delay. Fortunately, our hosts at Mountain Meadows RV Park were able to extend our reservations an extra day to give the weather a chance to die down.
But now what to do for two days? 50 degree temps with wind chills down in the 30's require some indoor attractions. Good thing Alamogordo and Tularosa have some neat things to keep us busy.
One of the things we vowed to do in our RV journey was to stop at any place billing themselves as “The World's Largest” - anything. Having already stopped at The World's Largest Popcorn Ball last year during our drive through Iowa, we were ready for another “World's Largest”. In this case, The World's Largest Pistachio, located just a couple of miles away from our RV park in Tularosa, NM. It's located at McGinn's Pistachioland, and it's 30 feet tall! Besides all things pistachio, they feature local New Mexico wines that are very tasty. In fact, they offer wine tastings in their store, and you can sample up to four different wines to delight the palate. We picked up a couple of bottles each of a very nice Gewurtztraminer and Sangria.
The next day found us at the New Mexico Museum of Space. Not the largest museum you'll ever see, but it nicely captures New Mexico's significant contributions to our space program. After all, White Sands Missile Base was crucial to our successes in the heady days of early space flight. The museum also features one of the coolest looking elevators I've ever ridden in.
Thursday dawned sunny and warm, which meant White Sands National Monument was firmly in our sights. Our park had plastic saucers we could borrow for the purpose of “sledding” down the dunes at White Sands, so we grabbed a couple and headed south on Rt 70.
I've really never seen anything so starkly beautiful as White Sands. Bright white gypsum sand, blown by nature into dunes that can rise over 30 feet, sitting in a basin surrounded by majestic mountain ranges. The road in begins as paved, but changes over into hard packed sand approximately 5 miles into the 8 mile loop. Very weird for this former Massachusetts boy to see sand plowed to the side of the road just like snow!
We got to the park late, because we wanted to take the Sunset Stroll, a park volunteer-hosted walk that highlights the flora and fauna of White Sands. Very informative. Our guide was a full-time RV-er with a diesel Newmar who camp hosts the park over the winter. The stroll is timed so that he finishes up his presentation and positions the crowd at the perfect site to watch the sun drop down behind the mountains to the south and west of White Sands. It is a very moving and beautiful way to end your day there.
With our first of three destinations in the books, it was time to head east to the extraterrestrial capital of the world – Roswell, NM. And it is every bit as campy and touristy as advertised. Little and big green Roswell aliens decorate every shop and corner in and around town. Even the front entrance to our RV park wheels out 4 alien statues every morning and back inside every night. They're EVERYWHERE! Our visit to the UFO Museum downtown certainly had enough information inside to make you believe that SOMETHING happened there that was more than just some weather balloon crash. The other places we visited (the Alien Spacewalk and the Alien Zone) were campy and over the top, but fun to take in. Funniest comment was from the owner of the Alien Spacewalk, a place with lots of black lights and fluorescent paint, saying that the Alien Zone was a bit campy compared to his place. Personally, they BOTH give campy a run for the money. For Star Trek fans, the Alien Spacewalk has an actual Mugato costume on display.
We were able to take a 90-minute drive in the Mini down to Carlsbad to scope out our next destination (the Chosa BLM campground where we were going to test our boondocking skills for at least a week), and our visit to Roswell was complete. It is certainly a destination not to be missed, if only for a day or two.
Chosa BLM campground is a hidden gem just off Hwy 62 at mile marker 9 heading south from Carlsbad Caverns. BLM stands for Bureau of Land Management, and it's government land set aside for public use. No water, electric or sewer; just real estate to park your RV or pitch a tent to get off the grid for a while. It's free to stay there for up to 14 days at a time, and then you must leave.
Since we had never really boondocked before (except for a night here and there at a local WalMart), we wanted to give the 36LA a real test to see how long we could make it unhooked from everything. So we filled our freshwater tank (70 gallons), our propane (20 gallons) and our RV's gas tank (80 gallons), emptied our black and gray tanks, and found us a nice spot right up against the fence facing back towards Carlsbad Caverns just about 8 miles distant. One nice thing about boondocking is that I have less to do once we get on-site. Jacks go down, slides go out, but I don't have to do a thing with electrical cords, water hoses and sewer hoses. I just take out my Genturi exhaust extension to send our generator exhaust up and over our RV instead of into our neighbors campsite, and I'm sitting back sipping an adult beverage. Life is good!
Three things on our list to do in Carlsbad; The Caverns (of course!), Sitting Bull Falls, and Guadalupe National Park just south of us in Texas for a hike. And maybe a round of golf.
The caverns are spectacular. We opted to walk down into them from the Visitor's Center and do the entire tour, then take the elevator back up. Figured it would be the easiest for us seasoned citizens. Ended up being about a 2.5 mile hike up and down and around the beautifully lit features over 750 feet below the surface. Too many pictures to post on the blog, so I'll try to upload them to a separate section on our website, or link to them if I can. Most of the pictures I took used the lighting provided by the Park Service, but there were a couple of places which required some flash photography to be able to appreciate them. Either way, a truly spectacular day underground. No bats this time of year, but Barbara and I both agreed that bats weren't high on our viewing list anyway.
Now, for this next spot I'm going to temper this section with the fact that Barbara and I have both seen Niagara Falls and Amicalola Falls. The latter was right up the road from us in Georgia, and they begin 725 feet above their base. Niagara Falls speaks for itself; we've been above them on viewing platforms, below them on the famed “Maid of the Mist” tour boats, and have stood both behind and underneath them. We've felt a small portion of the power of these falls as they cascaded on top of our heads while standing on a wooden platform on the American side as the water hammered you from above.
Sitting Bull Falls is none of these.
That being said, for a set of falls in the desert southwest, they are pretty nice. But I can't help thinking that if Sitting Bull were alive today, he'd be saying, “What? Is that all I'm going to get named after me?” The interesting thing is that no river feeds Sitting Bull Falls. It's fed from an UNDERGROUND spring that bubbles 150 feet up. The hike down to the base is very easy and very short. The hike up to the source can be a bit challenging. You'll find Sitting Bull Falls about an hour or so west of the Caverns in the Dog Canyon area.
Our last destination was Guadalupe National Park, only 16 miles south of where we were based at Chosa BLM. We wanted an easy hike of about 1-2 miles just to stretch our legs and our stamina a bit, so the folks at Guadalupe sent us about a mile back north to Frijole Ranch. Beautiful hike, but still a bit challenging for our fitness level, but give us time – we're retired! We still managed to climb over 500 feet vertically and about 1.8 miles in distance.
Our biggest challenge at the end of our New Mexico adventure has been seeing how well we and the RV adapt to boondocking without any connections. In short, we have been VERY impressed with the operation of this motor home in a remote environment. After a full week, we have used just a half tank of fresh water, we're down to 70% on propane (from a high of 92%), our gray and black tanks are at 1/3rd each, and we've used about 14 gallons of gas for the generator. That breaks down to about .4 gallons of gas per hour of generator use.
Not bad. Not bad at all.
Basically, we could do 10 days easy, and maybe up to 14 days if needed. We used paper plates to minimize dishwater usage, took 2 “Navy showers” each (let the water get you wet, shut it off, soap up and rinse off), and in between we used full body wet wipes and dry shampoo to keep clean. Let me tell you, we REALLY appreciated Navy shower days!
Finally, we checked off another state on the golfing list. Played 9 holes at Lake Carlsbad Golf Course, a municipal course in typical municipal shape. Fairways in need of grassy attention, greens recently sanded in anticipation of the upcoming Spring season, and no real hazards to keep you honest. A bit disappointing from a golf perspective, but about what I expected to see.
Now it's time to make our way back to Georgia to visit with our grandson, and prep for our next big trip – Utah's Big Five National Parks – beginning April 15th.
We'll skip over our New Mexico experience after escaping Texas (for the moment) and come back to it when we leave Arizona, as we'll be hitting some New Mexico destinations on our way back East.
Arizona was our next state to visit, because family was involved. Our first stop in Arizona was EXACTLY one of the reasons why we decided to RV in order to see this great country. Just about 50 miles into Arizona at Exit 322 is something that had been advertised for the past couple of hours on billboards along I-10. Literally dozens of billboards reminding us to stop in to see what “The THING” really is. It's one of those weird, wacky roadside attractions you can't really bypass in good conscience. So we pulled off at Exit 322 to discover just what was so darned strange about “The Thing”. Come to find out, it's a very entertaining 20-30 minute stroll through a museum that a very inventive mind has put together, suggesting that aliens from outer space came down to Earth millions of years ago and tamed the dinosaurs. They then stayed around in two warring factions; one bad and one good, who aligned themselves with the forces of good and evil on Earth. It ends with a display case inhabited by something that looks like an alien (apparently unearthed in a cave about 50 miles from the museum), but it could just as easily be a large, creatively carved piece of cottonwood.
My brother Doug has lived in the Phoenix suburb of Gilbert for more than 15 years now, so we camped out at Blue Star at Lost Dutchman RV Park in Apache Junction, AZ, just about a 25 minute drive to Doug's house. It's an interesting park; it's been here a while so the amenities are a bit dated, and the spots are configured differently than what we're used to. There's a narrow, 4-foot strip of concrete pad in the middle of the site, then you back in your motor home to the right of the pad on gravel, while your toad is parked on the left side of the pad. The pad is used for your chairs, grill and various and sundry other things you might have brought with you. Our 37.5' 36LA BARELY fit in site #62 assigned to us. The site is about 38.5' long, so we have a 6” clearance for the back and front of our unit. There are longer sites, but they're in the middle area usually reserved for snowbirds, or other sites on the right hand side that could take a 45' motor home.
The other strange thing is that their office closes at 5 pm. Not so unusual there, but what IS unusual is that they don't have an after hours board to direct you to your site if you show up at 5:30. Fortunately, the after hours emergency line got us in touch with their maintenance guy, who helped us find AND back into our site.
Met one other Tiffin owner here, and by coincidence he has a 36LA , too!
Our visit with my brother Doug was great. He and his wife Tracey have a beautiful home nestled in a nice subdivision. Grass areas in the front and back yards are well-manicured by their long-time landscaper, Carmelo, and Doug has created a wonderful place in the back yard to chill out with a fire pit and Tiki bar to go along with the usual pool necessary in Arizona. It had been a couple of years since I had last seen Doug, back when we were helping our Dad move out of his apartment to his senior living facility.
Doug and his sister-in-law Tam returned the favor and visited us the next day so they could see what RV living was all about. Doug had earlier expressed his reservations about our decision to retire early and do the RV thing, but he seemed suitably impressed with our 36LA.
Following the visits, we had a couple of days to goof off, so we decided to try a bit of hiking, something we had been unable to do based on our health problems early on in the trip out West. So, a late morning visit to Camelback Mountain was in the cards. We knew we weren't in shape to make one of the summits, but we made the effort to climb as high as we could safely do. I was able to make it a bit higher than Barbara did (she wanted me to go farther up), but was only able to get to the highest point between the two peaks. Still, it was a great hike, and the views were just awesome.
While we were coming down, we were held by park rangers and fire personnel to allow a helicopter to land, for the purposes of dropping off men and equipment in order to effect a rescue of an 11 year-old boy who had fallen and injured himself. Apparently, this happens all too often on the mountain. After a 20 minute wait, we were allowed to finish our descent.
On our way back to the RV park, we decided to see what all the fuss was about regarding In and Out Burgers. We had never tried them, as they are not in the Georgia area as yet, but many folks who have tried them had raved about them to us, including my brother, Doug. There was an In and Out on the route back, and we were hungry from the hike, so it seemed like a good idea to give it a go.
It was – disappointing.
Look, we come from an area where Five Guys burger places are plentiful, and had one right down the street from the apartment in which we lived. You can't beat their fries, especially when reheated the next day because they give you so damned many in that bag of theirs. In addition, their patties are bigger, juicier and they really know how to cook their bacon crispy. In and Out was nothing like Five Guys. Not impressed at all.
Moving day brought us halfway between Phoenix and Tucson, to a beautiful place called Picacho Peak RV Resort. It is situated right next door to the state park by the same name (we tried to get in but it was booked solid) and was right at the base of Picacho Peak, a 3,400 foot peak all by itself in the middle of nowhere. Absolutely stunning sunsets and wake up views as you look at this mountain each day.
It's also right next door to the Rooster Cogburn Ostrich Ranch, a nice little tourist trap that allows you to feed deer, goats, chickens, rabbits, ducks, lorikeets, and even stingrays. If you've got kids, this is a great stopover for a couple of hours. Barbara was able to become one with the lorikeets while feeding them nectar in a small cup.
Another day was spent in Tombstone, about 90 minutes south of Picacho Peak. The show that was put on recreating the Gunfight at the OK Corral was over-acted and campy, but pure fun to watch, especially with the audience participating in loud choruses of boos for the bad guys and cheers for the good guys. One of the things you have to plan for in Arizona is the change in elevation. Tombstone was a few thousand feet higher than our spot in Picacho Peak, and it was a good thing we checked the weather and temperature there before heading out. It was a full 15 degrees cooler in Tombstone, and would have been uncomfortable without the heavier jackets we brought.
Before leaving Arizona, a very nice Sunday afternoon and evening back in Tempe presented itself in a meet and greet scheduled by our favorite RV couple, Marc and Julie Bennett, also known as RV Love. They had been very helpful in answering some questions we had before deciding on full-time RVing, and we always wanted to camp with them at some time once we hit the road. While we didn't have the time to share a campground, we were able to spend some quality time with them and some of their other friends who attended. They are every bit as warm and personable as they seem in their videos and over email. We vowed to meet up at a later date.
Unfortunately, our Arizona adventure came to an end without any golf being played, but it was time to start heading back East. But first, New Mexico beckons . . .
We're Dave and Barbara Richard, and we're planning the ultimate retirement experience - travel the U.S. and Canada in style in a Tiffin Open Road 36LA Class A motor home, play golf and stop at every weird and wacky roadside attraction we can find.