Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Public Lands

Northern New Mexico, 10-18-19

Who would want to camp like this…..

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when there are so many better places to camp in your rig?

Back in August I talked about the trouble we had been having finding “good” places to boondock, or dry camp. Looking back over the summer and early fall our luck has improved. We’ve continued to explore and have found some wonderful places to settle for a few days or even a few weeks. As much as we hope to find that ideal boondocking or Public Land spot that is just off the paved road that no else knows about, they are either very rare or don’t exist.

Being realistic though, we like to find a spot with a view. Being surrounded by trees is nice, but after looking at tree trunks for a few days, they all begin to look the same and bring on a claustrophobic feeling as well. We like an open spot with mountains or water or some spectacular terrain in sight. Some of these are several miles from pavement and that means Miss Mosey is going to get dirty. But the views and solitude are worth it.

Gas pipeline right of way outside of Mancos, CO. National Forest dispersed camping.

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National Forest dispersed camping alongside the Dolores River between Rico and Telluride, CO.

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National Forest campground alongside the Rio Grande River

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Palisade NF campground near Wagon Wheel Gap, CO

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Mosca, CO Wildlife Management Area

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Highway Springs National Forest campground near South Fork, CO.

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Dispersed camping near Lizard Head Pass, CO.

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Not only do locations like these soothe our souls, but Gabby prefers them too.

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Noises in the bushes will keep her entranced for hours. But then after an afternoon of being in hunting mode, a nap is in order.

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We have to admit, Colorado is probably our favorite state for getting away from it all. There is so much wide open space and magnificent beauty. It’s  also a great place to indulge our hobby, Geocaching.  Below is EJ entering our geoname in a cache we found in the mountains.

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So long until next time!

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Arghh!! It’s open enrollment time again!

White Rock RV Park, White Rock, NM, 10-17-19

I am very proud of EJ today. It’s only been 2 days since open enrollment started (for us old folks on Medicare open enrollment ends December 7). She declared that we were gonna get this done and out of the way so we don’t have to worry about it any more. We are excellent procrastinators and waiting until the very end to accomplish something is not uncommon.

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One of the reasons for leading with the “Arghh” in the title is the mandate that we must carry Medicare Part D insurance for drugs or risk being monetarily penalized for the rest of our lives. Fortunately, EJ and I only have one prescription drug each that we require. And we can buy those drugs from Walmart with out using any insurance for far less than the price of the required policy.

And not only that, Humana sent us an email stating that if we wanted to keep our equivalent drug plan for 2020 it would cost each of us over an extra $30 a month. We prefer to stick with Humana because they are partnered with Walmart. And almost any where you go there is a Walmart nearby. Plus, it is so easy to transfer a prescription from one Walmart to another which is great for full time RVers.

So we started crunching numbers to try and understand which drug plan would be best and cheapest for us. Humanas’ price for a 2020 plan equivalent to what we have in 2019 is $58 per month. That’s $696 a year for each of us!! We can walk down to Walmart and buy four 90 day supplies for our prescriptions (with out insurance) for $40 per year each. That means we are throwing $656 down the drain.

Obviously we have to make a change. We can’t change the law and we don’t want to be penalized by opting out of the drug insurance plan all together. We continue digging and find that Humana has a “Walmart Value Rx plan for only $13.20 per month each. So instead of paying $696 for drugs that only cost us $40, we will pay $158.40 for those $40 worth of drugs, or a savings of $537.60 per year. It’s sad that we have to pay 4 times what the drugs actually cost, but in the end I guess we are subsidizing those in less fortunate circumstances.

For those interested, Walmart has a list of drugs and their prices for a 30 day and a 90 day supply is located HERE. Compare this to the price of your drug insurance, you might be surprised.

Next we tackled our supplemental health insurance. Since Medicare only covers 80% of your medical bill, we needed something to cover the other 20%.  We’ve been with Florida Blue since I turned 65 and they have worked out well for us as we travel. This year I have had more medical attention than I like, and no matter where we were, Florida Blue has handled it. So even though they raised their prices by about $15 a month we decided to stick with them for another year. We use their Plan F.

This all took the better part of the day. But it’s over with now for another year and kudos to my dear wife for making sure we did this instead of procrastinating.

Obligatory cat picture follows:

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Saturday, October 12, 2019

Miss Maggie Gives Us a Scare

Aspen Ridge RV Park, 9-27 to 10-1-19, South Fork, CO

Miss Maggie, as you may know, is our elder rescue cat. She joined our family in September of 2016 after we found her in a Priest River, Idaho animal shelter. We thought she looked so old and frail that she wouldn’t last through the winter. We decided that we wanted to make her last days as comfortable as possible so the decision was made to take her home with us.

Well, it wasn’t quite that straightforward as we Putnam’s never seem to make a snap decision about important things. We actually left her overnight while we talked about having her join our family. And it got cold that night so we worried about whether the shelter would keep her inside or would she be cold, would she make it and so on.

Three years later, she is still a part of our nomadic little group. Oh she still has her health problems that we deal with. In her previous life she had some trauma with her hips and now her mobility is limited. But she has learned that if she squawks loud enough we will help her up into a chair or down as the case may be. We travel with a ramp that we set up at the foot of our bed so she can walk up to go to sleep, or walk down for a late night snack.

She weighs about 5 pounds and never seems to gain any weight even though she has a voracious appetite. One of the medical problems she has is megacolon. This is a condition where the large intestine gets, well larger in diameter, and the bowel muscles get weak making it hard to go to the bathroom. The vet has prescribed lactulose which has really helped.

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Naturally when anything changes with her eating and bathroom habits we go on high alert. In the past, she has been to the vets several times to get, as we call it, “roto-rooted” to get her go to the bathroom( that’s Frank’s way of saying she received an enema) . This hasn’t happened in over two years so the Lactulose is working really well.

One day in late September she stopped eating altogether. She acted like she wanted to eat, but when she would get to her food bowl she would start making gagging noises. We tried all her favorite foods and got the same results.

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We steeled ourselves for the worst (thinking this may be the end) and made an appointment at the vet in Monte Vista, CO. This is the same vet office we took Gabby to a year ago when she had the “Gabby Bot” experience.

The vets there are kind and gentle and spend as much time with you as you want, while answering your questions and concerns. We insisted on all kinds of tests which all came back fine. There was no infection, her bloodwork was fine, all indications pointed to a healthy kitty. So why wouldn’t she eat. The vet ended up rehydrating Miss Maggie, and giving her an appetite enhancer. We asked for and received some special food that tasted extra delicious hoping that would help.

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After paying a hefty bill, we returned back to the RV and opened up a can of the special food. And she gobbled it up.

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The next day, I got the old off brand cat food (Paws) out of the refrigerator and put it in her bowl. When I set it on the floor she walked up to it and started gagging again, but didn’t eat any of it. I replaced it with some canned Friskies and she gobbled it down. Hmpf!! Could all of this been because of a can of “bad” cat food? The only difference is this time she only sniffed it and the previous time she actually ate it.

Life in Miss Mosey is back to normal again and so is Miss Maggie. Basking in the sun is always good.

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Sunday, August 25, 2019

Musings about Camping

Railroad Grade Road (FS-568) Dispersed Camping near Mancos, CO – 8-18 to 8-24-19

This year has seen our camping costs run the gamut from $50/night to free. As you know from following our blog we try to stay away from destination style campgrounds. However due to circumstances we may find ourselves near a popular town because we need to dump, fill and do laundry or because we are exploring boondocking possibilities and need a base to operate from.

Due to the huge number of recreational vehicles being sold, 483,000 in 2018 and 504,000 in 2017, campgrounds are in high demand. This means that it is nearly impossible to find campground availability on weekends when making short term plans. Many campers are now making weekend reservations up to a year in advance to secure a spot. Life changes, who can plan that far ahead?

Another thing that exacerbates the problem of lack of availability is that the penalty for not showing up for a weekend reservation in a federal campground is often only $9, or the service charge for the reservation service. Often we will travel through a Forest Service campground on the weekends only to find several spaces empty. But you cannot occupy these spaces because they have been reserved.

In a perverse way this works out to our advantage because we don’t like crowds anyway so dealing with fully booked campgrounds forces us to seek out lesser known towns and campsites that are away from popular spots. This means several things: 1) you have to look at camp sites more than 2 hours away from a major metropolitan area to minimize the “weekender onslaught”; 2) you have to seek out less popular areas; 3) you have to visit areas in the off season; 4) you have to travel far to get beyond the “comfort zone of most RVers” which will also mean fewer camping opportunities and fewer camping services.

We’ve been experimenting with fine tuning our techniques this year. We have imposed a limitation on ourselves to not be more than a 3 day drive from San Angelo, Texas for family reasons which makes this challenging.

Our first major stay was in Cloudcroft, NM. We found a nice National Forest Campground with paved sites that did not accept reservations. But it was only 1.5 hours from Las Cruces/El Paso and it was too close to Texas. Anyone in Texas seeking cooler weather was coming to Cloudcroft. On the weekends, the campground was overrun by folks from Las Cruces/El Paso. Unfortunately the camp hosts were instructed to not make waves which meant that many of the campground rules were ignored. For example, sites were limited to one camping unit and one vehicle. On weekends no attempt was made to enforce this rule. As a result the noise and amount of people created quite a disturbance.

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The site you see was a double site meaning 2 cars and two camping units or tents were what was expected to be on this site. There ended up being 5 cars and 6 tents, squalling kids and partying going on well after the 10pm quiet hour. We were formerly in the empty site next to them, but when it became apparent the rules were not going to be enforced we moved.

So that is where we learned our lesson about being too close to major population centers.

While there we talked to several full time or near full time RVers. Red River, NM was mentioned as a possible destination. It seemed to fit the criteria. Over 3 hours from the nearest major population center, no discernible popular activities and cool temperatures.

What we didn’t realize we had to take into consideration was the proximity to Texas. Once again, it appeared that every Texan that had wheels was in Red River. Also the town had no uniqueness, no soul. It existed solely to serve the tourists. Obviously it was successful in that endeavor.

We chose to stay in another National Forest Campground where we found once again that rules were the merest suggestion and not subject to any enforcement. We had what we thought was a secluded site flanked on 2 sides by single unit campsites. Then this happened right next to us.

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This is a small single family site. The occupants are squeezing in 3 cars, one travel trailer, 4 tents, 3 shelters, 8 adults and 3 screaming kids. The two cars are partially blocking the interior road. The camp host is at a remote location and comes by once a day to collect money from the iron ranger. Apparently he too, had been instructed to not make waves about the rules.

For RVers like us that seek out nature and peacefulness, it appears that National Forest Campgrounds may not be the answer. Usually they are peaceful and quiet Monday through Thursday, but come the weekend they more resemble a wild animal zoo.

So, what are a couple of campers to do? In our search for tranquility, we have stayed at several lessor known commercial parks. While they are pleasant, and not horribly overpriced, they lack personality. We still want the mountains, forests and views.

We had been reading a lot about boondocking up around Silverton, CO. That’s in the mountains, right? Plenty of camping opportunities in the wilderness right? We picked a spot in Durango (after being turned down by two other campgrounds because they were booked). It was fifty bucks a night for a site with the utilities installed backwards. We had to park with our front windshield pushed up to a tree so we could connect to the hookups. But we had air conditioning and since it was hot we were gonna use the heck out of that electricity. The only reason we were staying in Durango was so we could scout out some off the grid camping spots near Silverton or Ouray to spend a few weeks at cooler altitudes.

Boy were we shocked. All of the spots we checked were either to dangerous to take Miss Mosey, or packed like a commercial campground on a 4th of July weekend. Any place accessible by Miss Mosey looked like this.

Silverton Boondocking

What’s is the point of going boondocking if your neighbor is 10 feet away from you. Free camping is nice, but at what sacrifice? So, disappointed, we returned to Durango.

We know that in the summer, you have to find a spot at 9,000 feet or above to have cool daytime temperatures. We weren’t ready to go all the way to Telluride, so we picked  a spot near Mancos, CO but it was only at 8,000 feet. We ended up in a spot with a great view and no neighbors.

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Because of the lack of elevation, it gets a little too warm during the day. Our solar system is handling 95% of our electrical needs and it is so peaceful here. However, because of the low to mid 80 degree daytime temperatures, we will soon be moving to either higher elevations or somewhere with an electrical hookup. Oh and one more thing, you can actually see the Milky Way from here.

So what have we learned from all this? If we are honest, a lot of camping is hit or miss. Social media has ruined a lot of boondocking spots. Everybody wants to brag about the great spot they found and where it is. And so they become crowded. Also the shear number of RVers out there are competing for a limited number of spots. Think of Musical Chairs on steroids.

Sometimes you have to suffer a lot of thorns to find the rose. We continue to learn and adapt about how to find wonderful places to camp while trying to avoid the crowds. More remote spots seem to help. Our style of RVing, “winging” it is becoming more and more difficult. But if it was easy, everybody would be doing it, right?


Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Ice!

Show Low, AZ, Elks Lodge #2090 - May 24 to 27, 2019

ice cubes

Ice, the elixir of life. The substance, the glue that pulls together an excellent adult libation. Warm bourbon and soda? Nope! Warm gin and tonic? Nope again! Ice is a staple of life, an absolute requirement.

In our refrigerator, a residential model, we have a spot for an ice maker, but they are problematic and  takes up a lot of room. So instead, we buy our ice, as it is readily available at almost every filling station and certainly every grocery store across the country. Plus , a bag of ice doesn’t have any delicate parts to break like an ice maker.

For the two of us a bag of ice will last about 2 weeks and cost between $2 and $2.50 per bag or about 5 bucks a month.

Uh oh! Looks like the ice situation is getting critical.

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Fortunately we have reserves.

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All is good, the adult beverages shall not go unchilled this evening. Once again, all is calm in Miss Mosey.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

On Route 66

Kingman, AZ 4-7 to 4-13-19

Since the temperatures here in the high desert were a little cooler than Quartzsite we decided to check out the Elks Lodge in Kingman. They have plenty of space for RVs, just no hookups. In other words, right up our alley.

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We stayed a week and generally had the place to ourselves. The lodge is located in a residential area next to a golf course so it was very quiet.

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The RV parking area is located on an old tennis court. The lodge asks that you minimize running your generator so as to not give neighbors a reason to complain about noise. For us it was great because it is in full sun, the temperatures were mild and our solar panels were happy everyday.

Kingman is a great jumping off point for various tourist attractions and we visited them all.

Chloride is small mining community that is eking out a living by catering to a small number of tourists.

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It was formed in 1862 to serve the silver ore mining community. It’s main claim to fame now is “The Pride of Chloride”, a bunch of boulders painted by hippie Roy Purcell in the 1960’s. He reportedly stated that the paintings were the result of deep personal introspection. Personal, I think he just got high and stayed that way until he was done. But the paintings can speak for themselves. The aging hippie returned in 2006 to touch up his work.

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In Chloride itself is an old western town recreation. We were the only ones there.

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We continued walking around town and discovered a sight that gave meaning to the phrase “one person’s junk is another person’s treasure”.

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Many years ago we had visited Oatman, AZ in our Roadtrek 19 Popular. It was long enough ago that memories have faded so we felt that a revisit was in order. Along the road from Kingman to Oatman, the tourist books tell of a must stop to visit a spring pool up a hill.

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It was a trickle of water out of a rock into a small basin someone had created with rocks and mortar. Oh, and it was up a steep hill from the road. Well, it was a good excuse to stretch our legs.

And Oatman is a tired little western town whose claim to fame are the donkeys running loose around town. Other than that it is the typical little ticky tacky tourist town. It’s location is unique as it is squeezed in among steep hills and there is hardly any room for parking.

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By this time EJ is ready to try her luck at the gaming establishments. The closest place to Kingman is Laughlin, NV near the California border. She kindly chooses the Riverside Resort Casino thinking of me. I don’t gamble. My opinion is that I may as well throw my money on the floor considering the luck I have. The Riverside Resort just happened to have a car museum in it. Yay! So it was a win-win.

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The Kingman Elks Lodge was one of the friendliest lodges we have visited. We were invited to play card games ( the sporting kind where money is involved) and to participate in their Wii bowling league. Unfortunately it is a smoking lodge and the smoke was quite strong.

We offered to pay for our stay, but there was no charge and they even told us to stay as long as we like. But we still had country to see and explore, so after 7 days it was time to move on.


Monday, April 1, 2019

RV Dreams Boondocking Rally

Quartzsite, AZ – 3-22 to 4-6-19

After leaving the Escapade in Tucson, we were in need of a place to dump and fill our tanks and do some laundry. Our plan to stop in Gila Bend to fill with diesel and spend the night at the full hookup campground behind the Shell station didn’t work out as it was full. They offered to let us dry camp there but that wasn’t going to help get the laundry done. So to EJ’s dismay, I insisted on driving another 130 miles to get to Quartzsite.

This worked out nicely as we found Park Place Campground which had full hookups and was reasonably priced at the Passport America rate of $14.50 per night. We settled in for 2 days and got our chores done.

Then it was time for the RV Dreams rally to begin. This was a new experience for us, going directly from one rally to the next. I had chosen this particular rally because I knew it would be small (limited to 40 rigs) and it was about boondocking. We love to boondock and have done so for many years, but we figured what the heck you can always learn new tricks.

We had met Howard and Linda Payne years ago at the RV Show in Tampa Florida. I have followed their blog for several years and knew Howard to have an analytical approach to things which was right up our alley.

We drove out to Plomosa Road just north of Quartzsite Arizona and got set up.

The Rig Circle

Once we arrived we learned the rally was going to be smaller than we originally thought as only 21 rigs signed up. In years past they had to turn people away. Howard and Linda weren’t sure why the attendance was low, but we liked the fact that it was going to be small and not unwieldly.

To our surprise there was no set agenda. It was more of a “What do you want to know and we’ll talk about it”. In fact only a few things were preplanned. An analysis of each rigs suitability for boondocking, a golf outing, campfires every night and a trip to the Desert Bar.

So Howard inspected Miss Mosey and concluded we were pretty well set up. I knew there were a few things I wanted to tweak, but more on that later. We already know how inept we are at whacking a hard little white dimpled ball with a long stick so the golf outing didn’t interest us. But we did enjoy the campfires and the stories.

Beverages at the CampfireRing around the campfire

A couple of times we had a group meal where we cooked dogs and burger and a pancake/bacon breakfast. When everyone had their grilles all set up it was very colorful.

Cooker Selection

One day Linda decided to show the ladies how to knot t-shirts. EJ had to take a look at that. She later said she liked her t-shirts just the way they were.

Crafty Ladies

Getting ready for the nights big bonfire.

Chatting in the big circle

We’ve had the opportunity to go to the Desert Bar before, but for one reason or another, we never actually made the trip. Plus it’s only open on weekends which is when we generally stick around the campsite to avoid the crowds. But when our fellow rally goers decided it was time for a visit we opted to go. Our little caravan made the trek in one piece but not without a few harrowing moments.

Because none of us were interesting in beating our vehicles to death on the long bumpy rock/dirt road to our destination we drove at a reasonable speed. But of course there were dirt buggies and pickup trucks that thought we were going way too slow.

Idiot Driver

Some enterprising fellow bought some land out in the desert that had no electric  and no water and decided to build a bar/restaurant. And it became famous. When we finally arrived we had to wait to get a parking spot. We later heard that it was always this packed.

Solar at the Desert Bar

When building out in the desert, you make do with what you got. The toilets were no exception.

Nothing but the finest plumbing

So we traveled about 100 miles round trip for a couple of beers and a burger. And now I have the t-shirt to prove it.

Meanwhile, back on Plomosa Road at the rally we enjoy evening after evening of beautiful sunsets.

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We met some interesting folks, but surprisingly few of them seemed interested in boondocking on a regular basis. Almost everyone was headed to an RV park for an extended stay after the rally. Several folks were headed to Howard and Linda’s next rally in Parump, Nevada.

We wanted to have a little time to ourselves to decompress after 2 rallies back to back so we stayed on after the Boondocking rally was over. And then there was one.

And then there was one(2)

Maggie chose to take the opportunity to sleep in.

Someone wants to sleep in this morning

Since we were practically next door to Yuma, AZ, and the place where I bought the Lithium batteries for Miss Mosey, why not drive down there and pick up 2 more batteries to bring our total up to six?

This is a good time to talk about our boondocking philosophy. We don’t like commercial campgrounds because they are crowded, too many campers exhibit no common courtesy towards their fellow campers and they are generally expensive. However, they are a necessary evil when you need to dump and fill or do laundry and there is no other option.

Good choices to dry camp are campgrounds built by the Corp of Engineers, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and the National Forest Service (NFS). BLM, NFS and State lands also offer excellent boondocking opportunities. The advantages are fewer people crammed together, better scenery, low cost and if your neighbor is being obnoxious you can move.

Having said all that, we feel we have paid our camping dues. We started out camping in a tent, then a Volkswagen Bus, then a Volkswagen camper, then a Champion Class A built on a Dodge truck chassis, back to a Volkswagen Westfalia, then a Roadtrek 19 foot Poplar, then moving up to a 34 foot Itasca motorhome and finally a 36 Tiffin Phaeton. Having said all that, we have roughed it and now we are to the point where we like our creature comforts. Yes, we know there are campers out there that say what we do isn’t really camping.  We like to boondock, but that doesn’t mean we have to be uncomfortable while doing it.

So we run our residential refrigerator, use our built in bathroom, watch our LCD TV, charge our electronics, use our mattress warmer when it’s cold and operate our electric recliners. Yeah we have an energy hog, big deal, this is our home, and that means we will build up our 12 volt system to where it can support the way we chose to live.

That is a long winded way of saying our solar power system and our house battery bank has worked well, but it could use a little tweaking.

We have been contemplating adding more batteries to our existing bank for 6 months or so. Our overnight electric consumption would result in our battery bank state of charge being the 30 to 40 percent range. Which was within the tolerable discharge range for a LiFePO4 battery. But Lithium batteries will live longer if you don’t discharge them so much on a regular basis. So would we rather replace our current 4 batteries sooner or add 2 more batteries and enjoy the benefits of additional capacity for a longer period of time since we wouldn’t be depleting the batteries so much every day? That’s easy, MORE POWER!!

Like we said, Yuma was an easy 3 hour round trip and that is where Starlight Solar is. Larry, the owner, was very helpful in supplying us with the GBS LiFePO4 batteries for our original installation. So we contacted him and he just happened to have two more batteries in stock. All right! Road trip.

After picking up the batteries and various parts, we wandered over to the local brewery for lunch and to quench our thirst. The desert is a thirsty place you know.

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And then it was time to head back to Quartzsite so we could arrive before dark.

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Over the next few days time was spent building a battery box and insulating it to protect the new batteries.

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When we get back to Orange Park (whenever that happens), a proper battery box with decent insulation will be built to house all the batteries in one enclosure. But for now, all six batteries are protected and that’ll do.

Next stop Kingman, Arizona.