Sunday, February 26, 2012

First Day at Big Bend

Haven't been on internet for a couple days (earth shakes and eyes roll).

Refilling water in Wissonsin Bill's Casita

Our first day here we settled in walking around exploring the campground.  I met our next door neighbors, retiree Bill from Arkansas, a seven-time visitor here for 14 days.  He and his wife live in their travel trailer pulled by a 3/4 ton truck as so many others.   After their 14 day stay, they head west to Arizona for a while then maybe up to Oregon. Across the road is Bill from Wisconsin who, with his wife, just purchased a little Casita trailer direct from the manufacturer and are traveling further down towards the southern tip of Texas for a few weeks.  Wisconsin Bill, as I have tagged him, introduces me to Missy, his border collie.  Arkansas Bill has an interesting rig in his truck which enables him to store and transfer water and waste to and from his trailer.  2-30 gallon plastic containers lashed on either side of the back of his pickup.  One for water and one for waste.  He has a little pump for the water and on his trailer has a macerator pump on the waste line.  He pumps out the grey water from trailer into the waste container, drives over to the dump station and empties out the waste, then fills up the water container with fresh water, drives back over and pumps it into his trailer.  I photographed Casita Bill filling up his water tank using Arkansas Bill's rig here while he described the whole process.  Fascinating rig.  

This is our first experience without electric and water hookups for an extended period of time. Since our motorhome is a bit more mobile, we can just pull up stakes, (or levelers), drive over to the dump station, exchange waste for fresh water, drive back and put down the levelers.  All in about an hour.  We estimate we can last 5-7 days with careful water usage even with taking brief rinse-off showers, and I need my daily shower.  This beats the heat-water-transfer-to-bucket-haul-bucket-to-washroom-washup-dump-drain routine we used to do when tent camping. 

We had been in campground without water/waste hookups before but not electrical and we have overnighted (Amboy Crater last November) so this will tell us a lot about our usage of electricity.  We can run the generator to recharge the batteries,etc during the hours of 8AM-8PM and many people do in the evenings, however, we are experimenting with conserving electricity using only the bare minimum.  The motorhome has propane for heat and refrigeration so our fridge is fine.  We filled up with propane in El Paso and the weather is warm enough to not have to use the heater much which also conserves our batteries.  

Promise of rain far far away
Last week it rained 3 times totalling over an inch.  first rain in 19 months.  Normally rainfall is 15 inches per year.  Right now dry as is all of Texas.

We had purchased a little solar powered battery/lamp rig from Costco call "GoalZero" which we had used while tent camping a couple times for lighting.  The battery can be charged from 110v (which we did in Tucson in preparation for this trip), or from 12v outlet in the RV or car, or by 2 little solar panels which we intend to try here tomorrow.  Last night we hooked up the lamps to the battery and hung them inside the RV for lighting while preparing and eating dinner.  I also re-charged my computer as the battery case has 110v inverter as well as USB outlet for iPod/iphone.  Worked great and only use 1/4 of the charge.  Only downside was all these little huge which snuck into the RV and gathered around the lights.  No mosquitoes this time of year but lots of little insects which is great for birds and birders but not when you are trying to read.

We also had purchased 3 little LED lights which use AAA batteries and hung them underneath cabinets in kitchen and bathroom giving us some soft yet bright lights that don't use the house batteries.  Along with our headlamps and little flashlights, these work great at night for getting around in the dark.  

We are taking baby steps here and the interest of boondocking grows as we gain experience in the limitations of the RV systems.  This will give us more flexibility in where we stay and for how long.

We will continue to experiment and learn.  Big Bend is growing on us. Update - 3 days of not running the generator.  We ran it this morning for 2 hours while we headed over to the hot springs.  Recharged the house batteries and the little portable battery.  my laptop didn't recharge fully.  Also made toast and Sraddha used hair drier.  Now back to power conservation for next 3 days.  Water and waste holding up so far.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Certified Card Carrying "Old Fart"

Sernio Accress pass with Documentation
Todayat Big Bend National Park, I became a certified "Old Fart".  Card carrying senior with an official Senior Access pass for national parks, monuments, campgrounds, some state parks etc.  Maybe even get senior discounts at the movie theaters. . If we ever go again.

I also get a 10% discount at the local hardware store.  Woo Hoo!

Big Bend National Park

After 1600 miles of driving over a week's time, we have arrived in Big Bend National Park.  We drove 550 miles yesterday from Tucson to Alpine, Texas, the last 2 hours in the dark.

Windmill at Apline RV park
Awaking this morning, we leisurely departed around 0930 and drove the 150 miles to Rio Grande Village campground on the Rio Grande River in Big Bend.  During the drive to the campground through the west texas wild country, we were doubting our decision, however, when we finally arrived at campground with cottonwoods all around, we thought this might be ok after all.

The original campground reservation we made found us in a spot with which we weren't comfortable.  It all worked out because just then the campground hosts walked by, and when we explained our situation, they whipped out a campground map and showed us all the unreservable spaces from which we could choose so we drove around and found a much nicer one.

Chisos Mountain Range in Big Bend
We moved over and proceeded to set up camp and just after I put down the levelers and slide-outs,  Sraddha thought that we should move about 4 feet over to give us a little more level room for outside chairs.  Ok.  In go the slides and up goes the levelers....Up go the levelers part way...oops.  now what?  They are stuck part way up.  Can't move them.  can't move the motorhome.  Stuck.  Now could we be further from a RV service person?  150 miles from Alpine which might be the closest but we don't even know if there is anyone there who can fix it.  No cell service to call.  I start to lose it and S reminds me that we have been in worse jams.  I envision crawling under the motorhome and hand cranking up the level stands (4 of them).  Seems the microprocessor is confused as to whether the lever stands are all the way retracted.  but the auto level buttons are not working.  Turn engine off. turn on.  Still blinking at me.  Sigh.

View from my outdoor chair at Big Bend
After 20 minutes of fits and starts and fiddling and turning off and on the engine and trying to move the motorhome the level stands finally retract all the way.  Whew.  Disaster averted and we move the beast 4 feet north,  Put down the levelers, out come the slides and peace and tranquililty reigns.  We meet our neighbors who inform us the wifi at the village store works well so I head over and fight off the bees while checking email, uploading photos and typing this blog.

We are here for 7 nights and I hope to get some good sunsets and sunrise photos, do some hiking, and experience some wide open spaces and deep peaceful meditations.

Stay tuned.

On the Road to Texas

Near Las Cruces, New Mexico
Drove 550 miles in 11 hours.  not bad considering we stopped 2 times for propane.  The first time we stopped and fueled up in New Mexico at a place we knew had propane but the pump was broken so we stopped again just across the Texas border and filled up.  All in all a long but stress-free day.  Drove last 2 hours in the dark through some hilly country with elevations nearing 5000 ft.  Found a small quiet RV park in which to sleep that enabled us to pull through without un-hitching the toad.  we hooked up electrical and water and have a place to dump waste in the morning. (this is the morning after).

I couldn't get the mifi internet to function last night.  there had been a outage so typing this in the morning

Sunset in Texas
We entered Texas through El Paso and drove 120 miles to Van Horn through some hilly country along the Rio Grande then turned south.  Sun was setting so I jumped out at shot this pic. from across the fence.  Got a big sticker in my shoe clear up through the sole into my foot.  Ouch.  Srtaddha said that is why Teans wear boots all the time.  So the California sandals get put away for our hiking boots during the stop in Big Bend.

Not sure of internet access while in Big Bend.  will take lots of pics and try to resurface to post sometime in next few days.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


As we prepare to depart beautiful southern Arizona we hiked up one of our favorite canyons here in Catalina State park.  Here are a few iPhone photos of the wildflowers we encountered.  I didn't want to lug around my big camera.

The lower section greeted us with numerous wildflowers.

And some of the Ocatillo has begun to leaf out.

This wild poppy has some friends!

Tucson - The RV repair shop

When we camped out last fall in a place where there were no electrical or water hookups (it is called dry camping in RV circles) we discovered the propane burner in our water heater was belching sooty smoke.  We ddidn't discover this until a couple days afterwards when it was towards the end of our trip and we were once again "connected" so we cleaned it up and vowed to check into this issue when we returned to Arizona in February.

view from customer lounge
Flash forward 2 months and here we are back in Arizona so I called a local RV repair shop and made an appointment to take the motorhome in for water heater service on President's day at 10 AM.  the drive time was about 45 minutes but I didn't know if it would take longer so I planned on longer.  Glad I did.  Arriving at the service desk early I waited for about 20 minutes to be helped then found out, after we did the initial paperwork that I could either, a) wait for someone to come pick up the RV and drive it back to their service bay about 1/2 mile away or, b) drive it over myself.  Another customer with a 9:30 appt was still wating (it was now almost 10:15) so we both decided to drive over to the actual repair shop.

I parked the motorhome and went into office to notify of my arrival then waited in the outdoor customer lounge until 11 AM when someone finally retrieved it and took it into the bay.  I wandered over to watch and the technician asked me to go back to the "lounge" and wait.  Harrumph!  Fortunately I brought the trusty Mifi and computer so was able to check email, login to server and also talk with home office folks while waiting.  Yes, I could have read a book, but there were a few things in need of attention and I figured that when we get to Big Bend National park, I will be off the grid for a week, so might as well make hay while the sun shines

Anyway, the work got done for a reasonable cost and I was out of there before noon.  The tech showed me the issue, and answered a couple questions about other issues for my reference.  Now I had to drive back over to the main office and pay my bill.  They had my license number so it seemed prudent to return and settle up.  This took another hour because I missed the turn and had to go the long way around then missed the turn again when someone called me on the hands free phone.  Sigh.  Anyway, we had allocated a half day for this and sure enough, I returned about 4.5 hours after departing the campground to find the lovely wife waiting.  We parked the motorhome leveled it out, hooked up everything and walked around the campground.  She wanted to show me this HUGE RV and trailer rig.  wow.  we met some new neighbors down for the winter from Montana and then headed out to see some friends.
The day was warmer and dry.  Peaceful

Monday, February 20, 2012

Tucson - Resting at Catalina

Resting in Tucson.  While we had cruised through most of our checklists to restore the RV to working and traveling order, I decided to take the afternoon off while Sraddha visited the Tucson museum of art.  After resting and reading for a while I repacked and consolidated the camera gear into a different bag. I had purchased a little tuner hooked it up between the antenna and the old standard definition tv so we could get HD over-the-air channels if we wanted. Unfortunately we could not get the PBS channel but we could get local news if wanted. All in all, it was a nrestful afternoon

Vereo with breakfast snack outside our RV
Yesterday morning as we set outside drinking morning beverages we watched birds.  No surprise there.  We had set out our bird feeder and the neighbors (mentioned before) had 2 bird feeders so we see a lot of activity.  I got the camera out and was able to shoot this Vereo who landed nearby.  Not a good photo because the background is washed out and I don't have the photoshop skills yet to fix it but he had a bug in his mouth.  kinda made the picture

Cooked dinner for S from some of the frozen (and now thawed) items we brought from home and she read to me before bed time.  This has become an evening favorite activity.  We are currently reading the Biography of Yogananda by J Donald Walters (Swami Kriyananda).

Today we head over to Camping World (about 45 minute drive) to get Water heater checked.  Seems the last time we heated with propane we got a lot of black soot coating the outside wall of the RV.  We have been using the electrical heater while staying at parks, but the campsite in Big Bend doesn't have electrical so will be dry camping and want to have this functioning correctly.  plus a couple minor other things.   This could take an hour or half a day.  Will see.  Sraddha is going to shop for a small list of non grocery items like a 5/8's open ended wrench to replenish the one she accidentally dropped behind a wall under the sink and now we can't get it out wtihout removing half the motorhome wall.  and some batteries, etc.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Made it to Tucson

After driving 950 miles over past 2 days, we have returned to Catalina State Park north of Tucson.  The first 850 miles were by Jeep to Tempe, neat Phoenix, arriving at the storage place around 10 AM this morning (doesn't that sound like we went overland through hill and dale?). We had prepared the RV for storage during a driving rainstorm last December and it sat unattended in a secure, covered storage facility for past 2 months. We had filled the gas tank with stabilized fuel, drained the water and waste tanks and lines, and disconnected the batteries. One reason for selecting Phoenix was the likelihood of the temps remaining above freezing which happened.  Nevertheless, we were prepared for something to have gone wrong.

Our Catalina campsite
Well, cross your fingers, but it hasn't happened yet.  We reconnected the batteries, checked the levels and started up the engine on first try!  Woo-Hoo!  then checked the tire pressure, visually inspected everything and were out the door by 10:45.  Drove 5 blocks to a shopping center to hook up the jeep and have lunch then headed for Tucson, arriving at the park around 2:15 PM local time.  Fortunately we had made a reservation last December for our original spot because we had just realized it is President's day weekend and the campground was full.  So we pulled in, received our passes, drove to the campsite and proceeded to hook up.  We noticed the brand new 40 foot motorhome next door made by the same company as ours when the Claire drove up to it and I asked her who was the "Gator" fan of the family to which she replied, "Both of us" then came over to introduce herself and invited us over for a little tour.  She and her husband, Chuck were long time RV'er's from North Carolina having spent time out here in previous years and were roaming around the southwest for the winter.  They had bird feeders out, drawing the finches and woodpeckers, which made Sraddha real happy. Real nice neighbors, with 2 beautiful Collie dogs, and we hope to see them again.

We wanted to get back to settling in and were hoping all the water lines were ok, which they were along with all things electrical.  Whew! After stowing gear for 2 hours we headed out 3 miles south to replenish a few needed fresh supplies to get us through a couple meals.

Desert flower
The desert is beginning to bloom here and I saw this cool little flower nearby which was only 6 inches high so I  managed to grab my camera with the closeup lens and shoot a few pics of it in the late afternoon light.  If any of the readers can identify it please comment so I can caption the pic.

We prepared some dinner after a little quiet time and were remarking how blessed it is to be here again.

As I am typing I can hear the coyotes howling in the distance, a nightly occurrence.  it is approaching bedtime and the campground is getting real quiet. It will be great to get a good nights rest and enjoy the quiet.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Big trip tomorrow to Southwest and Texas Gulf Coast

Friday morning we depart home for a 2 month trip. Well I will fly home for 2 weeks in the middle of the trip to work.  We hope this journal will be inspiring to you.

As you may recall, we left our motorhome under covered secure storage near Tempe, AZ last December so it wouldn't have to face the "harsh" winter of northern California.  So much for harsh winter.  Nevertheless, it is time to embark on a new adventure!  We load up the Jeep today whilst I have a full day of work and clinic board meeting tonight.  Packing has not been as frenetic as past times because we don't have to pack that much.  Some clothes;  some food like my favorite jam and peanut butter which we cannot get easily on the road;  a few things we have purchased for the motorhome, etc.

We hope to arrive at the storage lot by mid day Saturday, re-connect the batteries, start the motorhome and down to Catalina State Park just north of Tucson before dark.  We are bringing jumper cables in case the batteries have drained out.

After replenishing supplies, checking all systems (and hopefully not having to repair anything major), we will depart Tucson Wednesday March 22 for a 2 day journey into Big Bend National Park which lies on the Rio Grande river that separates Mexico from Texas south of El Paso.

To give you a distance perspective.
Driving distance:

  • 950 miles = Ananda Village to Tucson 
  • 350 miles = Tucson to El Paso, TX
  • 330 miles = El Paso TX to Big Bend National Park
  • 570 miles = Big Bend National Park to Port Aransas, Tx (Gulf Coast)

So, what's the big deal?  nothing.  takes us 2 days of easy driving to get to Tucson in jeep because we can drive in the left lane on the freeway.  350 miles in motorhome is 7 hours in the right lane so not too bad if you add a couple more hours in there for stops.  then another day to Big Bend.

After spending a few days in Big Bend Park we will drive down to Texas Gulf Coast, specifically Port Aransas on Mustang Island, which is a barrier island outside Corpus Christi, Texas. See map below.  you might have to click on the minus sign on upper left to zoom out a little to get the perspective.

View Larger Map

I will fly home a few days later to work in office having remotely worked while on the road, then return 2 weeks later to Corpus.  We will spend a few days up on the Bolivar Peninsula north of Galveston, then 2 weeks driving home, arriving mid April.

Our return route will be determined by weather, however our preference would be to drive north up to Amarillo and follow Route 66 westward through New Mexico and northern Arizona.  Will see if weather cooperates.  It didn't last December.  We will be posting regularly to this blog with updates and photos.  stay tuned.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Snow Kayak

late morning after all the snow melted almost all...
Well, at least I think it is.  Maybe there was some snow while we were in Arizona but I don't remember.  Anyway, it snowed overnight.  not much but enough to be white.  I didn't get a good pic early but shot this one around 10 AM this morning while visiting the Expanding Light. 

Yesterday I had installed the racks for the kayaks on the jeep and loaded up one kayak as a test.  So it kinda looked cool with snow on top of kayak.  Would have been neater to launch kayak in snow!!  Ha Ha.

We are now packing for trip. Departure is Friday and full week at office and other activities in the meantime.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Golden Gate Bridge and a new friend

GGB at night from first observation deck

Iconic structure widely recognized around the world.  Probably one of the most photographed of any place except Eiffel tower or Tower of London. (IMHO).

Was reviewing some pics tonight which I shot a couple weeks ago whilst visiting Baghdad by the Bay (San Francisco).

Point Bonita Lighthouse
I had driven out to the Marin Headlands one afternoon when the weather cleared to see the lighthouse and met a fellow photographer, Norman, who also wanted to shoot the Point Bonita lighthouse. However, we discovered our government dollars at work repairing the trail out to the point which prevented us from visiting it.

We struck up a conversation and it turned out he is a professional wedding photographer from the midwest on a little vacation trip on the California coast shoot landscapes, beaches, sunsets, lighthouses, etc for relaxation.

I asked if I could tag along when he shot the sunset over the Golden Gate bridge and he said yes.  What a treat!  Anyway we ended up having a real fun time and met early the next morning out on the same place in the headlands to shoot sunrise.

He sent me some really inspiring pics from his trip and I thought I had better finish some of mine too.

Hopefully we will meet up again next time he is out here on west coast!!