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're Dave and Barbara Richard, and we're living the ultimate retirement experience - traveling the U.S. and Canada in style in a Tiffin Open Road 36LA Class A motor home, playing golf and stopping at every weird and wacky roadside attraction we can find.