advice, COVID-19, full-time RVing, Travel, VanLife

Top 25 Gift Ideas for the RVer/Vanlifer in Your Life

Living full-time in your van/RV you end up purchasing several items thinking it will make your life so much better!  After 10 months and living in about 25 square feet, we now know what is helpful in tight spaces.  We have made a list of items ranging in price from a few bucks to a several hundred to meet people’s varying holiday budgets. We decided to share with you items we use either weekly or daily.  Here are our top 25 holiday gift ideas before Black Friday!   First, we’ll just list and hyperlink the items.  Below the list is an explanation why we like the items so much and are recommending them. Happy Holidays!

  1. Instant Pot $79
  2. Outdoor Mat $36.99
  3. Compact Camping Chair $119 camping stool $19
  4. Trasharoo $54.90
  5. Scrubba $55 or Easy Go Portable Washer $52
  6. Berkey Water Filter $337
  7. Weboost Cell and Internet Booster $499
  8. HydroFlask Coffee Mugs $29.95, Wine Glasses $29.95 or Water bottles $45
  9. cbdMD Sleep Tincture and cbdMD dog treats and cbdMD Hip and Joint Chews for Dogs
  10. Electric Kettle $18.69
  11. Induction Italian Espresso Maker $41.39 Coffee Grinder $15
  12. XL Camp Towel $17.99 and Camp Towel Set $11.99
  13. Compression Clothes Travel Bags $25.47
  14. Back Roller $26 and Yoga Set $29
  15. Duel Bike Cover $75
  16. Set of collapsible containers $19.99 and steamer  $21 and dog bowl $3
  17. Chaco’s Men Sandal $65 and Chaco’s Women’s Sandal $68 and walking sticks $22
  18. LMNT Recharge $45
  19. Zinc Spray $25.99 and Airborne Vitamin C Chewable $22
  20. Paper Towel Holder $14.99
  21. Walkie Talkies Long Range Waterproof $69.99
  22. Atlas $22
  23. Dr. Bonner’s Liquid Lavender Soap $31
  24. Kindle paper white e-reader $89.99 or Amazon Fire Stick $39.99 or Apple HDMI Dongle $62 or Apple Airpods $99 or Costco Lenovo Touchscreen IdeaPad $499
  25. Healthy Protein Bars $18

So why these items?  We find these items help us with everyday living.  We try to find items that take up as little space as possible, are the most affordable and durable (as everyone who knows me, I am the Samsonite Gorilla when it comes to using items-if it can break, I will find a way to break it). First item on the list, is the Instant Pot!  Being able to cook a full meal in one pot and typically in less than 30 minutes makes life easy and efficient!  Plus, when you are doing the dishes it makes clean-up so much easier in a tiny space.  When it comes to cooking, we use these items every day. The Instant Pot usually makes about 2-3 meals for a couple so these collapsible containers are great for storing leftovers and pack away nicely.  I also like to steam my vegetables instead of them overcooking in the instant pot, this steamer does the trick in the microwave. We love our Espresso and our cooktop is induction so you must have a special induction coffee maker.  This Induction Italian Espresso Maker makes the perfect espresso to fit in our Hydroflask Coffee Mugs (keeps your coffee nice and hot and spill proof, especially good for me as a clutz I am in the morning).  We like to grind fresh coffee beans each morning, makes a wonderful scent throughout the van, this Coffee Grinder is durable and small to store.  I also love the Hydroflask Wine Glasses, this way you don’t have to worry about glass breaking in your van and it keeps your wine the perfect temperature. There are so many recipes that require boiled water and if you are a tea lover, having boiling water in a couple minutes is great.  We use this electric kettle every day. Getting your paper towels out of the way but in easy reach is important.  I am surprised many RVs don’t come with a paper towel holder, we like the modern look of this paper towel holder  and its durability.  When you are living in less than 25 square feet if something can be used in multiple ways it is especially beneficial.  We love Dr. Bronner’s Soap as it can be used as hand soap, dish soap, shower body soap and washing clothes soap.  It is biodegradable and won’t hurt the environment and if you have dry skin we find it doesn’t dry you out.  My favorite is the Dr. Bonner’s Liquid Lavender Soap.  A lot of RVers worry about the fresh water in their water tanks and if its clean and how often to clean the tanks and how to clean the tanks. We solved this by getting a Berkey Water Filter.  We love this, the water taste fantastic and we use it every day! If you have a hard time falling asleep like Greg and I do, we are huge fans of cbdMD Sleep Tincture.  Bode is almost 11 years old and is a big fan of their cbdMD dog treats (really calms him down and he thinks they are super tasty) and the cbdMD Hip and Joint Soft Chews really helps his hips if he goes on too long of a walk or hike with us. 

When we roll into a new camp spot either at a campground or boondocking.  I usually have the ritual of putting the awning out, laying out the outdoor mat, setting up the compact camping chair and I love this camping stool if a friend comes by to sit or we typically used it as a table for drinks or electronic devices. After a long drive Greg and I love to roll out our backs with this back roller and stretch out with this yoga set.  We also find there are many times you will get to a spot where there is no cell reception so having good walkie talkies that are long range and waterproof are helpful for communication when you are trying to find a camp spot, go out for a hike or bike ride alone or helping your spouse backup and avoid smacking into a tree or rock!  People ask us what type of shoes do you use as you can’t bring too many pairs on the road?  For the Spring, Summer and Fall we love these Chaco’s men sandals and Chaco’s women’s sandals they are super comfortable, great support and we can walk/hike for miles.  One thing that is super important if you are walking in areas there are snakes is to have good walking sticks.  Make sure you bring plenty of water on your hikes, we really like these water bottles from Hydroflask and this collapsible dog bowl for Bode.  I also find after having two reconstructive knee surgeries, these walking sticks are great going downhill and in rocky areas.  Don’t forget to bring your protein bars, we like these healthy protein bars as they are super healthy and have no added sugar but only the natural sugar from dates. I have low blood pressure so I need to take salt tablets, I find LMNT Recharge gives me the salt I need and flavors the water with a yummy citrus taste, so you get the rehydration benefits and a tasty drink!  I have said multiple times in our blogs I have gone over a year without a cold and I live by this Zinc Spray.  I take it when I feel run down, especially when I am out and around sick people.  When I feel a possible cold coming on I take 3 sprays every 4 hours and Airborne vitamin C chewable and, so far no cold!

There are some important items you need for your RV to make life easier.  If you are carrying bikes and are off roaders- like us, you go down a lot of dirt roads, hit the elements: like rain and snow.  If you want your bikes to stay in good shape we love this duel bike cover from Formosa, it’s also big enough for electric bikes.  They also stand behind their product; the zipper broke after 3 months and they sent us a new one when we contacted them!  It’s nice to get the trash out of your van, we really like the Trasharoo that fits on our spare tire to put trash, our shovel, and some of our dumping supplies.  Depending on the size of your RV you will want one or both of these options for doing laundry.  When I am on the road, I use the Scrubba when I am at a campground and can easily hang a line. It rolls up so small and can store in any cabinet in our RV.  If I am at our RV stop at Caballo Loco Ranch, where we have a storage trailer and more room, I use the Easy Go Portable Washer where I can do almost a full small load of laundry!  They both work amazingly well and I use Dr. Bronner’s soap so I can dump the soap water and not damage any vegetation. When you are in limited space of a camper van there is not many places you can hang towels.  We have found these XL Camp Towel great for drying off after a shower and can hang off the AC vent.  We use these set of three Camp Towel Set (one for hand drying, one for dish drying and one for our feet when we step out of the shower and to dry off the shower)  and all of these can easily hang off the AC unit with the snapping leash. GPS is great but sometimes you want that paper map!  We love our Atlas where it shows rest stops, camp grounds and more details on national parks.  When we hit the road we had no idea, how limited cell coverage is in a lot of the rural areas in this country the Weboost Cell and Internet Booster works great and usually doubles our reception coverage! We wouldn’t be able to enjoy Netflix, Amazon Prime, Pandora, AppleTV or maintain this blog without it!  Living in a small camper van, you are limited on space and these Compression Clothes Travel Bags make it so we can take a lot more clothes in our small cabinet.  

Last, but not least folks asks us what types of tech items we use often.  I love to read and I love the Libby app where I can download 15 books from my library to my Kindle paper white e-reader.  When we watch TV we like to use our Amazon Fire Stick  or Apple HDMI Dongle .  It is important you get the apple dongle and not one of the cheaper knock off brands as Amazon and Netflix will not let you stream with the knock off brand while with the Apple it works!  If you are on the road and need a good affordable laptop, I can’t believe how inexpensive the Costco Lenovo Touchscreen IdeaPad for only $499 can do everything you need!  It is a great product, dependable, I use it to make all my videos, maintain my blog and do everything else you need to do online.  Also, Costco has great customer tech support.  My laptop stopped working and I just sent it in and 4 days later it came back repaired or replaced.  Last but not least is good Bluetooth ear buds.  I loved these Apple Airpods that are currently on discount for Black Friday as they are super comfortable and they don’t light up and wake up Greg when I am listening to a book in the middle of the night to fall asleep. 

We hope these are helpful and know they will make the RVer in your life super happy to get one of these items! Cheers, next week’s blog will bring my favorite recipes on the road- none take more than 30 minutes and some only 10 minutes.

(We are Amazon Associates & cbdMD Influencers, so we may earn from qualified purchases.)

advice, COVID-19, full-time RVing, Travel, VanLife

Importance of Leave No Trace Ethic When Camping and RVing

Now that we have been on the road for 8 months and have visited over 40 national parks, monuments, historic sites and stayed in Bureau of Land Management, National Forest, National Recreation Area disperse camping areas in 17 states. We have found some of our public areas in poor condition.  We are not sure if it is new people camping and RVing that aren’t aware of the rules or people being lazy.  I am hoping the previous and not the latter.  This week’s blog we would like to refresh folk’s memory on what we should do to ensure we keep our lands pristine for the wildlife and next generation to continue to enjoy. We hope this helps new RVers & campers and serves as a good reminder for those long-time veterans in the outdoors.

  • LEAVE NO TRACE: This means the spot you stayed at looks like you never stayed there.  That means you should pick up all your trash.  Yes, that means cigarette butts.  You should dig a hole around 6” deep and bury your ashes and leave the firepit empty.  Please don’t leave trash even items that can burn in the firepit as critters will still get into the firepit and you don’t know when the next camper who comes will make a fire or if there may be fire restrictions in place later.  Please don’t dump your grey water at the campsite.  Take the time to pick up trash of other’s who left it behind.

Unfortunately, there are more public lands than employees who can come and clean-up.  You should assume there is no one coming to clean up areas.  If you are lucky and you discover a place that does have trash disposal, do not overfill trash cans or lay your trash next to the full trash can.  This encourages wildlife to eat things they should not be eating or the wind to blow it all over the place.  Consider getting a trasharoo if you don’t want trash inside your vehicle.  There are trash cans at every gas station and most city parks and rest areas that you can drop off at the next place. 

  • DON’T FEED THE WILDLIFE: Yes, its cute that the chipmunks, squirrels and birds will come up to you and even on to your hand but don’t feed them!  There will not be people at that spot all year around to continue to feed them and we don’t want them dependent on humans and human food.  Second, many of these cute animals’ harbor diseases (such as Hanta Virus), you don’t want your kids to get bitten or cut by one of these cute animals.  These cute animals will also ruin your vehicle.  As you continue to feed them, they would like to be stow-a-ways and will eat your wires and other items in your RV, car or truck.  If they are scared of humans, like they should be, then they will stay away.  We have had a few field mice and ground squirrels enter our vehicle-not fun!
  • DISPOSING OF TRASH:  It has been so sad to go to rest areas, historical pull outs and viewpoints to see trash all over the parking lot, in the river, streams and banks.  These beautiful places are beginning to look like junk yards.  Please take the time to throw your trash in trash cans.  If trash cans are full or there are not at the stop please just hold them until the next gas station or other appropriate location.  If you have junk to dispose of, please use the dump where it is supposed to go and not these beautiful places.  Also, please take the time to bag up and throw away your dog poo.  If you don’t have a bag then take the time to dig a hole and bury your dog poo.  No one wants to step in it, see it, smell it and it drives wildlife out of the area.  I know its not fun but that is why we carry this great portable shovel from Amazon or leave the dog poo bag in the trashroo until we find a trash can. 
  • RELIEVING YOURSELF IN THE OUTDOORS:  Unfortunately, many places in the outdoors do not have bathrooms or vault toilets.  If that is the case, the rule of thumb is to dig a hole at least 6” deep.  Your hole should be 6 inches deep so you can bury your feces and toilet paper so critters do not dig it up and people don’t step on it.  The last thing you want is your dog eating human waste, sorry gross has happened to us before.  When you need to go or a child needs to go, its understandable but please take the time to bury it and do not leave diapers-they do not degrade away.  We were in Glacier National Park hiking up to a water fall and someone left human waste and toilet paper and a diaper right next to the trail.  Not only was it gross but animals were going after it and kids not paying attention were stepping in it and dragging it down the trail.  Please don’t be the person who does this!
  • BEING CONSIDERATE: Not everyone wants to interact with other people.  If you are boondocking and there is an empty area don’t park next to the people.  Try to park as far away as possible, give people space.  If you are boondocking and you see an area that already has a vehicle but a second vehicle could fit, take the time to knock on the other RV and ask if they would mind if you parked near them.  They found the spot first, many will say that is fine but some people may prefer you not to be there and if they do, it’s fair for them to ask you to find another spot.  Many people go to the outdoors to enjoy peace and tranquility.  You may want to listen to music but others may not.  Feel free to enjoy your music but consider doing it at a quieter level so others don’t hear you rocking out and consider turning it off at a reasonable hour.  We were camping and a group of ladies having a bachelorette party decided to play their techno dance music blaring from their SUV until 3AM.  It really was not enjoyable.  As much as I want all ladies to have a fabulous bachelorette party please be considerate of others.  If your RV has a generator, those are loud and some very stinky!  Many campgrounds require them to only be used from 8am-8pm.  Consider that a standard even if its not specified at a campground or if you are boondocking.  People go to sleep at different times and it’s a considerate rule to go by to be a good neighbor. 
  • COVID-19: I know this topic has lots of controversy and people can believe whatever they want to believe, but we can all be respectful.  Even if you don’t like masks, we should be considerate of others.  Considering we are in middle of a pandemic, not everyone wants to interact with others.  Please wear a mask or give people 6 feet if you want to ask them questions.  We are happy to talk to people about our rig and our adventures but I don’t appreciate when people touch my vehicle, come up next to me or continue to walk closer and closer to me, when I am backing up.  Don’t be a ‘Space Invader’.  I have been a year ‘sick free’ for a reason and I’d like to stay that way.  People may look really healthy but you don’t know if they have any health issues that put them in a high-risk bracket.  If you are hiking trails or biking, bring a mask or at least a buff or bandana.  You don’t need to wear it the whole time but when you are passing other people you should.  When we are walking we wear our masks on our chin so we can easily put it on when people are approaching. If you are hiking with friends don’t take up the entire path, walk single file.  Many people don’t want to have to be pushed to the side or walk right next to you.  Its very considerate to even stand to the side and let people pass by, especially if they are struggling. If you are taking a rest break by yourself or with a group, please stand to the side and wear your mask so people don’t have to go around you or have you and your group breathing on them.  Many campgrounds are closed or at half capacity, make sure to check before you show up at national parks and monuments.  Some require reservations while others have first come first serve spots, I suggest calling the park and talking to a ranger before just showing up. 

We hope this helps as you enjoy the great outdoors!  If we all follow these simple rules then we can ensure our parks and monuments and public lands stay open.  If we continue with the trash, human waste and destruction, many of these lands will close and then we won’t be able to get out and enjoy the outdoors. 

COVID-19, full-time RVing, Travel, VanLife

Traversing the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

After Rocky Mountain National Park, we headed to the Curecanti National Recreation Area and the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.  Taking highway 50 from the Boulder Area to Curecanti and Gunnison is a beautiful drive.  In 1965 the Park Service established Curecanti National Recreation Area, that would encompass all three reservoirs (Blue Mesa ReservoirMorrow Point Reservoir and Crystal Reservoir), as well as short sections of the upper Gunnison River.  It built campgrounds, marinas, lake access points while trying to protect, research and interpret the natural environment and local history.  The area really is a mecca for those who love to boat and fish.  If you are not a big boater or fisherman then there is not much to do here, as there are only a couple of hiking trails and none at Elk Creek Campground, which is the largest campground with over 160 sites, but for our purposes it served as a nice entry point to the nearby National Park. As of September, when we visited here are the campgrounds that are open and closed:

Elk Creek: OPEN, reservations highly recommended; limited self-registration sites available
Lake Fork: OPEN reservations required; same day reservations may be available
Stevens Creek: OPEN, reservations required
Red Creek: CLOSED FOR THE SEASON
Dry Gulch: CLOSED FOR THE SEASON
Ponderosa: OPEN – self registration – credit cards preferred
Cimarron: CLOSED FOR THE SEASON
East Elk Creek: CLOSED FOR THE SEASON

We started at the Elk Creek Campground, which has a few first come first serve spots on the reservoir.  You have to drive around and find them; the campground station is closed and you need to go to the visitor center.  They are not much help; they tell you either go on reservation.gov to reserve or drive around and if you find and open spot then come back to them and pay. There is no cell coverage at the campground and the first come and first serve sites change daily.  I asked, ‘can you help and tell us for tomorrow which sites are available?’  The park ranger said no and advised us to drive back to Gunnison and get internet access to find available spot on reservations.gov and then come back to them at the visitor center to purchase since you can’t make a same day purchase on reservation.gov website.  The last thing you really want to do is drive again after driving 100 miles.  WOW, is all I could think!  This day and age with technology this is how you manage a large campground?  But if you need RV electric hookups it is the only campground with hook-ups.  So we decided we would just stay one night and head off to the Black Canyons of the Gunnison National Park.   Our luck we also had a huge bachelorette party right next to us that blasted loud techno pop music part of the night out of their SUVs.  The campsite wasn’t bad but we prefer boondocking with a lot less people. 

The next day we headed out early, it was very tempting to blast a little AC/DC at 5:30am for the hungover revellers, but we didn’t.  We got into the Black Canyon of the Gunnison at 830am and went straight to the South Rim Campground.  We have found if you get to campgrounds between 830am-10am before the 11am checkout there is a good chance to get a spot in September.  We were pleasantly surprised to find there is a full loop that is first come first serve (why doesn’t every park do this?).  With the huge rain storm the night before there were several available camp spots, so we scored a great spot.  There is a wonderful hike from the campground to the visitor center that allows dogs and has an amazing view of the canyon.  Here is a link to the park map.  At the visitor center we signed up for the evening ranger talk- Symphony of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.  It was an entertaining talk but geared much more towards kids, but it was nice to have ranger talk organized.  Most of the national parks we visited all talks were cancelled.  They did a good job sitting people 6 feet apart and everyone had masks on in the amphitheater. 

Day two we woke up early and took turns (someone had to watch our dog, AKA King Bode) from riding from South Rim Campground to High Point, which is a 20-mile round trip bike ride.  We checked out Pulpit Rock (at 2pm there is a ranger talk there), Cross Fissures View, Rock Point, Devil’s Lookout, Chasm View (1/3 mile hike), Painted Wall View, Cedar Point (2/3 mile hike), Dragon Point, Sunset View and then High Point which is 8289 feet.  At High Point you can do a hike to Warner Point (1.5 mile hike) where you can see to the South the San Juan Mountain Range, Uncompahgre Valley, and Bostwick Park and to the north look for the West Elk Mountains, and at the end of the trail enjoy the views of the Gunnison River and the Black Canyon.  I attended the astronomy evening ranger talk since Black Canyon has an International Dark Sky designation, so I was excited to see and hear about the area.  Once again interesting information but really geared toward children, very basic astronomy and takes a while before the ranger gets to it.  I did not realize that all ages are welcome to become junior rangers and their workbooks are interesting even if they are geared toward children.  The Black Canyon of the Gunnison has a really cool wooden junior ranger badge that they were giving out to those interested.  I was disappointed though that many people took 3-6 badges instead of just one, as the ranger stressed they only have so many to go around. 

We woke up early and headed down the Rim Trail again to see the sunrise over the Canyon, it was amazing! The last day we ventured and did three round trip hikes from the campground the Rim Nature Trail to the Uplands Trail to the Oak Flats Trail.  I really enjoyed the Oak Flats Trail it has amazing views and had you going half way down the canyon with a different perspective that wasn’t too difficult or too steep.  I would highly recommend bringing a walking stick.  We were surprised that the state of Colorado had a fire ban but the national park allowed everyone to have fires at their campsite?  We really enjoyed this national park, the campground, the ability to go for hikes and bike rides from the campground and the lack of people!  It was really enjoyable, people who were there were super considerate and all wore masks! 

The next morning, we got up early, filled our water before heading out and drove to Grand Junction, CO.  First, we stopped by the Montrose Fairgrounds to the free RV dump, got gas and refilled our groceries from Walmart.  At Grand Junction we visited Colorado National Monument, we had never heard of it but the Canyons and rock formations were awesome and there were so few people, but it was hot (90s).  There is also a large mountain biking area before the park entrance on monument road.  Note, RVs that are higher than 12 feet you must go through the Fruita entrance instead of Grand Junction was there is a tunnel you must go through this way and only has a 12-foot clearance at the highest point and on the side only 10’7”.  We did the Serpents Trail that goes from the tunnel to the Devil’s Kitchen picnic area (3.5 mile round trip hike).  We stopped at Cold Shivers Point, Red Canyon Overlook, Ute Canyon View, Fallen rock Overlook, Upper Ute Canyon Overlook, and Highland View.  By midafternoon, we were so hot and ready to head to our Harvest Host for the rest of the day.  We headed to Palisade, the wine country of Colorado.  It’s not like Oregon, Washington or California wine country but its cute and there is also a lot of fruit farms. This time of year, there was a lot of peaches and sweet corn.  We stayed at Grande River Vineyard.  They are super friendly, and it being Labor Day weekend they allowed us to stay 2 nights so we did not have to figure out where to stay as all campgrounds were full in the area.  Their landscaping was well done, they had a large level gravel parking lot and during the heat their covered picnic area was perfect to relax, look at the rocks and have a cool place to stay.  It was nice we were the only RV the first night and the second night there was just one other.  I highly recommend their location and their Reserve Cab Franc. The second day, Greg did a bike ride along the Colorado River from Palisade to Grand Junction, I took Bode for a walk to the City Park on the Colorado River (he had a nice cool down swim) and visited a fruit stand to get a fresh peach & peach butter to make peach crisp.  Before heading out of town we thought we would do a hike on the Corkscrew Connector Trail if you are a campervan or RV bigger than 15 feet, I recommend do not go down Wildwood drive to the trails.  It is in a residential neighborhood who really don’t want you there and the trailhead parking lot is small, if you aren’t a Revel, truck topper, or small camper van you will probably not fit. 

Our next stop would be Great Sand Dunes National Park but a huge snow storm was heading our way, so we decided to take Highway 550 via Durango to get lower elevation than take the faster route Highway 50 back through the Gunnison Area.  I highly recommend taking Highway 550 its beautiful through Ouray.  More about that in our next post!  Thanks for reading!

Learn more about:

  1. Curecanti National Recreation Area
  2. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
  3. Colorado National Monument
  4. Get a 15% discount for Harvest Host Membership
  5. Grande River Vineyard and Palisade Wine Country
advice, COVID-19, full-time RVing, Travel, VanLife

Exploring Rocky Mountain National Park

I have a new respect for great youtubers and bloggers and I will no longer complain or make fun of a vlogger who did not have the most engaging post.  It is hard work to have an entertaining post!  We have been on the road for nearly 6 months now and my goal when we first started was a video/blog a week.  Being on the road, much of this country has dead zones with zero cell service, which makes editing and posting blogs and vlogs on YouTube and WordPress difficult if you are trying to be consistent!  After traveling 100-150 miles in a Sprinter Van, setting up camp, cooking, cleaning, hiking, biking, and/or paddle boarding, many times I find myself just wanting to enjoy a beer and the view and not jumping on my computer to write or video edit!   I have found myself not posting for several weeks or even getting my computer out, which is not good if you are trying to create a following.  You must have consistency with vlog/blog postings every week.  I also did not realize how much work it is to create a good video and the frustration of right before compressing your video(that you spent 50 hours editing) that your audio for one part was bad and hard to understand and need to decide do I: redo the video, do a voiceover, just add music or say oh-well and post the bad audio (I’ve done all but redo the full video, which is not good if you are trying to create great quality- sorry to those who would like us to redo the Boldt Review Video!).  I have decided I probably won’t get to be the quality level to get great sponsors but hope these will be helpful for your travels, help newbie RVers not to make our same mistakes or be great virtual explorations if you can’t get out to these wonderful places.  This week’s post won’t have a video but just photos.

This week I’ll be sharing our adventures at the Rocky Mountain National Park.  We were considering skipping this park since it is so close to Denver and we have been trying to avoid huge crowds but I am so glad Greg pushed us to change our minds.  Currently, with COVID19 Rocky Mountain requires you to have a timed entry permit or a campground reservation or arrive before the park opens at 6am.  This is fabulous and made this one of our favorite places to visit, as there are about 60% less people in the park right now!  The only two campgrounds are open (Moraine Park and Glacier Basin) and only half of the campground is open for social distancing requirements.  Even if you go on reservation.gov and see no campsites available, I suggest calling the toll-free number (877-833-6777) and sitting on hold for 45 minutes as several people cancel last minute and this is how we got our two-day campsite reservation.  We stayed at Glacier Basin in Loop B, if you can get Loop C that is the loop with the amazing views and a chance to see Elk and Moose in the meadow if your neighbors can be quiet and not run their generators. 

We entered from the westside, which I recommend as only 20% of park attendees come from this entrance, most come from the eastside-Denver Area.  We camped the night before at Lake Granby at Stillwater Campground, which is a fun paddle boarding lake.  We decided to stay here instead of boondock since a big thunder and windstorm was expected for the late afternoon and we didn’t want to get our van stuck in sand.  There were a lot of fisherman and plenty first come first serve campsites next to the lake.  We left early the next morning 5am to hit the park to see wildlife.  We were able to see moose, elk, prairie falcon, peregrine falcon, marmot, ground squirrels and golden eagles.  There was plenty of room to stop at every pullout and interpretive trails and hiking trails.  All morning we only saw 3 cars until we got to Deer Ridge Junction when you get to the intersection of 34 and 36 the eastside and westside.  We stopped at the EndoValley Picnic Area which is the end of 2 way.  We were going to bike the Old Fall River Road which is one way the road is a gravel dirt road and pretty narrow, not something you want to attempt in your camper van unless you are a great backroad 4X4 higher clearance driver.  It was already 90 and when seeing how close cars/trucks come by you on the trail we decided to turn back on our bike ride.  After stopping at Sheep Lake, looking for our Bighorn Sheep (none were out) we headed to our campground before the big thunderstorm hit again in the late afternoon.  This campground also had an RV dump and water fill area, which was great! 

The next morning, we headed out early again at 5:45am as I wanted to hike to Dream Lake to watch the sunrise.  Note RVs greater than 21 feet need to park before you get to the Glacier Gorge Trailhead there is a parking lot RVs could fit under 25 feet and a couple pull outs after Bierstadt Lake Trailhead right before Glacier Gorge. Note: There is a sign that says RVs greater than 23 feet should not go beyond the Park and Ride across from Glacier Basin.  We did not notice this so when we got to Bear Lake we were asked to leave that our rig was too big (we are 23 feet). Greg went back to the campground and I did the hike by myself and I would take the shuttle back to the campground.  There is a free shuttle but it doesn’t start running till 730am.  I highly recommend taking the shuttle, remember to bring your mask it is required to get on the bus. I got there just in time to take the trail to see Bear Lake, Nymph Lake, Dream Lake and Emerald Lake and watch the sunrise over Dream Lake.  It was beautiful but a lot of traffic!  The parking lot was almost full at 6:15am and the Glacier Gorge Trailhead parking lot was already full.   As I returned to Bear Lake Parking Lot, I decided to take the Alberta Falls Trail and then return to the Glacier Gorge Trailhead and take the shuttle back to the campground.  The campground has water and an RV dump.  We then took Highway 7 out of the park and the backroads to North Glenn as we head to Florissant Fossil Bed National Monument.  We decided to stay at Cracker Barrel for the night but there were several great boondocking spots along the river on highway 7. 

Advice if you go to the park:

  1. Enter through the Westside, only 20% of visitors come this route
  2. If camping at Glacier Basin campground stay in Loop C
  3. Do sunrise hike to Dream Lake
  4. Use the free shuttle, make sure to bring a mask or you can’t get on!
  5. Bring your bike/e-bike to travel through the park makes it much mroe enjoyable
advice, COVID-19, full-time RVing, Girls and Technology, Travel, VanLife

Visiting Dinosaur National Monument

RGB Adventures visited Dinosaur National Monument on the Utah and Colorado border.  This was one of my favorite monuments I have visited so far in the last six months.  We spent three days in the park and we still did not have a chance to explore the northernmost areas of the park and missed the Gates of Lourdes…something for next time.  Perhaps because of Covid19, it was the least amount of people we have come into contact with in the national parks and monuments.  It was wonderful to have so many hikes and opportunities to visit petroglyphs by ourselves.  I highly recommend getting the first 9am appointment at the quarry and doing hikes by 7am.  Most people are not out and about yet and the sun isn’t beating down on you.  Also, the rangers still are excited to answer questions!  The temperatures are more in the 70s instead of the 90s. 

This blog and video are dedicated to the members of the National Girls Collaborative Project.  When I worked for Microsoft, I had the opportunity to join the champions board and volunteer for the organization for the last 10 years.  As many who know me are aware, I am passionate about encouraging women to undertake careers in engineering and STEM and that is what NGCP is all about with an amazing leader and great friend Karen Peterson!  I hope this blog excites girls to consider careers in the environmental sciences!

We started off by entering at the Jensen, Utah gate and went to our campsite at Green River Campground.  There were several first come first serve sites there so we did not have to make a reservation.   The next day, we got up early in the morning to hike through several petroglyph sites, enjoyed the amazing rock formations at the Sound of Silence 3.2 mile hike and instead of taking the tram we did the 1.2 mile one way discovery fossil hike to the quarry exhibit.  You must go online and make a reservation for the quarry due to COVID19, its only $1 a person. 

At the quarry there are park rangers and scientists who are geologists, archeologists, anthropologists and paleontologists studying these dinosaur bones.  Their research into ancient life helps us better understand earth and human life.  They have helped us better understand how different organisms interacted with each other and the environment and how its changed over time.  They are helping us understand the effects of climate change and how plants and animals are evolving. They also help us better understand why certain life goes extinct while others keep surviving.  If learning about these areas are exciting to you then you may want to pursue a career in Geology, Archeology, Paleontology or Environmental Science.

I had a chance to meet, talk and interview a park ranger who is a geologist and archeologist.  She told me that today the quarry is home to over 1,500 dinosaur bones and they encourage you in some places to touch the 149-million-year-old dinosaur fossils in the exhibit quarry.  It was exciting to hear her stories about the history of the park and the quarry.  The quarry contained eleven different species of dinosaurs such as allosaurusdiplodocus, and stegosaurus.  Check out the online multi- media exhibit of the quarry. When you see the quarry you wonder did paleontologists really discover the bones as they are presented, or did someone artfully place them here for effect?   Is this real or just a replica of what was in the past when they first dug up these bones? The answer is that paleontologists discovered the bones just where you see them today!  It’s incredible that everything in the quarry is real. The bones are just as nature arranged them more than 150 million years ago, deposited by an ancient stream.

The river coursed through a lowland area and dried up. Dinosaurs gathered around shrinking pools of water in the river bed and eventually died in place, to be entombed by sand and gravel when the river flowed once again. With more time, the river amassed large quantities of bones (like a huge graveyard, behind a dam). Layers of mud and sand began covering the bones, eventually hardening into rock. Here they remained, waiting for the next cataclysmic event and the explorers who eventually discovered them.

About sixty-five million years ago, that event began to occur. Forces beneath the earth’s crust began to exert themselves, forcing the crust upward, causing it to buckle and the riverbed containing the bones to tilt upward. Now near the surface, it was inevitable that erosion would eventually expose the bones and that one day someone would find them.  In 1909, Earl Douglas found the first bones of dinosaurs here as he was searching for fossils for the Carnegie Museum when he discovered a formation layered with prehistoric plant and animal fossils. A quarry was established and in 1915 Dinosaur National Monument was created to protect 80 acres in the quarry area as people were pilfering dinosaur bones. Today, the monument includes over 210,000 acres across two states. After this amazing experience, we returned to the visitor center via the discovery trail and by 10am it was already 90 degrees! 

We returned to our campsite only to be overrun with aggressive ground squirrels and chipmunks.  This is what happens when bad humans habitually feed the wildlife.  Bad humans!  So we headed to the River Access about a mile past the campground, to escape the little marauders.  It was relaxing to enjoy the Green River and admire the rock formations.  Let me tell you a little science behind all these different looking rock formations you will see in my video and below.

The geology and rock formations are amazing.  The following information comes from the National park Service.  Dinosaur National Monument receives less than 12 inches of precipitation a year, vegetation is thin and the rock layers and the geologic features are clearly visible.  Dinosaur is located on the southeast flank of the Uinta Mountains, a subrange of the Rocky Mountains and the highest mountain range in the contiguous United States that runs east to west. The landscape at Dinosaur was shaped by the development of these mountain ranges during the Laramide Orogeny, 70-40 million years ago.  Twenty-three rock layers are exposed at the monument. These rock layers are remnants of extinct ecosystems spanning 1.2 billion years, from ancient seas, to plains where dinosaurs roamed, to Sahara-like deserts that were home to tiny, early mammals. When the Rocky Mountains began to rise, this area went along for the ride.

At Dinosaur, the mountain-building did not simply push up the rock layers from below, but also squeezed them from the sides, warping and lifting them, sometimes cracking and shifting them along fault lines.

Throughout the monument, much of the spectacular scenery–the faults, folded and uplifted rock layers, and river canyons more than a thousand feet deep–reflect the tremendous geological forces that shaped this area.  You can see this at Split Mountain, the Sound of Silence hike (there is a virtual tour on my video of this hike) and the amazing canyon views on the Harpers Canyon Road in the Canyon entrance by Dinosaur, CO.  The Green and Yampa rivers are central to the extensive geologic history on display at the monument. Over millions of years, the waters of the Green and Yampa have cut deep canyons, exposing rock layers that were uplifted during the Laramide Orogeny.

The next morning before we left the monument, we road our e-bikes to visit two more petroglyph sites past the Green River Campground, hike Box Canyon and visit Josie Morris’s cabin (she was one of the first woman homesteaders in the area-you have to read about her amazing story).  Most petroglyphs in the monument came from the Fremont Indians, who lived in the canyons in and around Dinosaur National Monument 800 – 1,200 years ago. They were the forerunners of tribes such as the Ute and Shoshone, who still inhabit communities in the area today. 

Homesteading was a man’s world back in the 1900’s.  It was interesting to read about Josie defying the woman’s role as people knew it back then and paving the way for woman to own property. With no money to buy property, in 1913 Josie decided to homestead in Cub Creek in what is now the Dinosaur National Monument. Here she built her own cabin and lived for over 50 years in it mostly by herself. For a time, Josie shared her home with her son Crawford and his wife; grandchildren spent summers working and playing alongside Josie.

Raised on the frontier, Josie lived into the modern era of electronics. For friends and acquaintances in the 1950s, Josie was a link to a world past. During Prohibition in the 1920s and into the 1930s, Josie brewed apricot brandy and chokecherry wine. After a lifetime of dressing in skirts, she switched to wearing pants in her later years. She was tried and acquitted twice for cattle rustling when she was in her 60s. At the age of 71, in an ambitious move to revive a profitable cattle business, she deeded her land away and lost all but the five acres where her cabin still stands.

After our bike ride and hikes we headed out of the park and down highway 40 to the Dinosaur, CO Canyon Visitor Center entrance to see the canyon, change of vegetation and scenery.  It’s about 10 degrees cooler here because of the higher elevation.   We ended our visit by driving down Harpers Corner Road to see the Red Rock Canyon and Round Top Mountain and Island Park Overlook we were able to look down to the area we camped and explored which was an interesting perspective.  I recommend people of all ages to venture to this monument.  If you can’t make it, then you can watch our virtual tour.

Here are our top 5 things to do in the park:

  1. Do the tour of the quarry and if able the discovery fossil hike
  2. Hike the Sound of Silence during sunrise
  3. Camp at Green River Campground
  4. Check out the three Petroglyphs sites/hikes
  5. Cool off in the Green River at the River Access about 1 mile past the campground

advice, COVID-19, full-time RVing, Travel, VanLife

Vanlife is Always Eventful

We have learned life on the road is always eventful and you have to expect the unexpected.  (For those who are visual here is our video for this blog.) We headed out of Newport, Oregon to go check out Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, Mt. Rainer National Park, Wenatchee National Forest, Sandpoint, Priest Lake, FlatHead-WhiteFish and Glacier National Park. First, we stopped by Harvest Host Blue Heron in Tillamook, Oregon on our way to Mt. St. Helens. As we arrived in Mt. St. Helens, we hit turbo fog and the reason we moved out of Washington to Central Oregon as the temperature drops from 75 to 60s and mist then rain hits us in early July.  We found a nice boondock spot about ¾ mile from Marble Mountain Snowpark and the June Lake trailhead.  We were hoping to hike up to June Lake and the rim of Mt. St. Helens but when we awoke to pouring down rain, fog and no view a few feet ahead of us, we decided it was time to head to Mt. Rainer and see if we can get above the rain clouds to some nicer weather.  As we were driving down and around Mt. St. Helens and up to Mt. Rainer we began hearing a loud knocking sound in our engine compartment.  Searching online what this could be we thought it is either the Mercedes Alternator or the Winnebago 2nd alternator that runs the house of our RV with the Volta Power System. Having zero reception, we kept one eye on our bars while we drove through Mt. Rainer National Park (still closed to camping as of July 1) to have enough bars to call Mercedes in Seattle. 

As you head to Mt. Rainer on Forest Service Road 2586 near the catch and release fishing sign and a bend in the river is a good possible boondock spot- there were no signs indicating no camping and a few fire rings. Another possible site is Northbound Forest Service Road 25 before MM 27 and near MM 24. 

The road to Mt. Rainer (FR25) is paved but is very rough.  There are many spots where the road is falling apart and disintegrating into the cliff.  It is very windy but quite beautiful.  Unfortunately, in the pouring rain and turbo fog we couldn’t see the views of the mountain or the overlooks.  As we reached higher and higher up the mountain pass the temperature dropped to the 30s with snow surround us.  We decided we’d rather not camp in the snow and went on to Issaquah to visit Greg’s brother’s family.  On our way, near the small town of Randle, WA we found a county rest area near a cute pound and wetlands area with a few Beaver lodges that allowed you to rest for 8 hours.  We took an 8-hour break here to have dinner, nap and rest before heading to Issaquah, WA.  We also had a few bars in this location to contact Mercedes Bellevue and get an appointment to find out what is wrong with our rig. Later when we got to Issaquah, we got a phone call from Bellevue apologizing for booking an appointment with us as they don’t work on Sprinter vans and we must go to Seattle Mercedes.  Thankfully, Seattle Mercedes could see us at 8am on Thursday, July 2. 

Greg got to Mercedes at 8am and found out several techs took personal days for the 4th of July holiday and they may not get to our rig!  (Never break down before 4th of July holiday!)  after several disgruntled phone conversations with the service manage finally, by end of the day, we find out that the engine and alternator in the Mercedes were good but It was the 2nd alternator that Winnebago and Volta put in that is dead.  Of course, its 5pm Thursday.  Winnebago is closed for the holiday, Volta is closed for the holiday and every Winnebago service center is booked solid so we have to stay in Issaquah until Monday as we need to be plugged into to shore power to be able to use our rig.  After spending all day Monday on the phone with Winnebago, Volta and contacting every Winnebago service center in the Washington area were all booked solid for the next 3 weeks, we get approval for Mercedes to put in the alternator and for it to be overnighted.  So on Wednesday, July 8th, Greg heads back to Mercedes Seattle to get the 2nd Alternator installed and hopefully all our issues go away. 

At noon, Greg arrives at his brother’s house and it seems like our issue is fixed.  The Volta system is green, the engine knocking sound is gone.  So, we pack up and head to Wenatchee for some much-needed sun and warmth!  After a few hours of driving we notice our batteries are not charging, so I begin texting back and forth with the Volta technical support technician as they think Mercedes has damaged the system when installing the alternator.  We are now 200 miles away, we decide to boondock at Washington Fish and Wildlife Area Watt Canyon, (near Ellensburg, WA) which is a nice, picturesque spot and next to a pretty irrigation canal.  We parked in a fairly flat gravel parking lot and if we weren’t exhausted from all the vehicle issues, we would have mountain biked the area, there are miles of gravel roads to explore in the area.  In the morning, we were down to 70% and no charging of our batteries.  We then called around a dozen Winnebago service centers in Washington, Oregon and Idaho who are all booked out for the next 2-3 weeks and they couldn’t fit us in.  Finally, Volta Power Systems came through and found us a service center in Eugene, Oregon that could see us and are certified technicians of the Volta power System.  So as we were headed towards Idaho, we needed to do a course correction and began heading Southwest and 400 miles out of our way to get our rig fixed.  At least, Oregon Motorcoach Center owner Matt Carr was super empathetic, helpful and tells us as soon as we get here, he will help us out!  He took the time to talk to Volta technicians and Winnebago to ensure we are taken care of and that all the parts that could be needed were at his shop!  YEAH, someone good, we hoped!

We decide its time to use our Harvest Host membership and head to Zillah, WA to stay at Bonaire Winery on the way to Oregon. They are super friendly, beautifully landscaped property and yummy wines that are currently 50% off because of COVID19.  We enjoy a lovely bottle of chilled Rose Syrah paired with instant pot lentil soup at dinner.  The next morning, we awoke to our breakers beginning to trip as we try and use the microwave and stove for breakfast with our power down to 60%.  We decide its time to take the big push and drive over 250 miles from Yakima Valley to Eugene.  At 2:30pm, we arrive at Oregon Motocoach Center to Matt taking good care of us and getting us parked, plugged in, discuss the issues and offer us to use their barbecue gazebo area for the weekend and 730am Monday morning he would get our rig fixed.  After an hour being plugged into shorepower we are back to 100% and some relief flooded our bodies!  We grilled a couple of steaks and roasted vegetables on their grill and finally enjoy a couple beers, AC and some Jimmy Buffet Cheeseburger in Paradise!

When life gives you lemons you must make lemonade, so on Saturday morning we decided to head to our beach house in Newport to get a few errands completed and see the beautiful countryside and boondock in some pretty places on the Oregon Coast since were fully charged. We took the back-country roads from Eugene to Philomath that are so stunning and relaxing with very little to no traffic.  We highly recommend this route (follow Territorial Highway and Bellfountain Road).  After finishing our errands, we took a couple hours to relax at Seal Rock and watch the sunset and cook Instant Pot Split Pea Soup (I’ll have a blog soon on my favorite Instant Pot recipes).  After the beautiful sunset we took the back road Highway 34 towards Alsea Falls and boondock in the Siuslaw National Forest near the Old Strawberry Farm.  This part of the Alsea River is gorgeous and very green with a very rainy spring bringing lots of new growth.   In the morning, we headed back down 34 and backroads to Alsea Falls for a hike, mountain bike and check out the campground and BLM dispersed camping opportunities for the future as we headed back to Oregon Motorcoach Center.  Note there is no reception in this area. 

First thing Monday morning at 7:30am, they took out rig and started testing systems.  We found out that Mercedes Seattle installed the alternator wrong and it shorted out the 2nd alternator and shorted out the main Volta Power System brain and they would have known they did this, as the technician must have been electrocuted.  After hearing this, we thought great it is going to take at least another 2 days as another alternator would need to be shipped.  With COVID19, we were seated outside and it was about to hit 90 degrees, so we got a rental car and hotel for the night and more phone calls to Winnebago to ensure we get the parts we needed.   As we were trying to relax at the hotel, we got a phone call from Volta ensuring us that everything will be fixed and it was under warranty and we would not be charged. They promised they would make sure the system is working properly and fully tested before we left Oregon Motorcoach Center.  It was great to hear their attention to our situation and ensuring that our system will be 100% before we left.  Then Oregon Motorcoach Center called that they were done and that they had an alternator and a Volta System Brain in stock they used to fix our system.  Since it was already 3pm and we were already checked in to the hotel, we agreed to come first thing Tuesday morning to get a walk through and pick up our rig. 

The technician walked us through everything they did and what to look at if something goes wrong again.  We decided to head back to Alsea Falls Campground and stay there for three days and test the system.  After three days our system did not trip any breakers and was down to 25%, we then headed to Harvest Host Summerfield Winery on the edge of Springfield/Eugene area off Highway 58 for the night.  It charged back up to 90%, yeah so far so good!  The owner Cris is wonderful and she gave me a lovely wine tasting and we enjoyed a bottle of Pinot Blanc and a bottle of Pinot Noir to enjoy another day.  Cris was so friendly and she chilled the bottle of Pinot Blanc for us.  The next day, we headed down 58 which is a beautiful route with very little traffic, such an enjoyable drive.  We should have boondocked at Salt Creek Summit Snow Park but I used Google satellite view and saw RVs parked at Black Rock Pit so we decided to go there to get further Northeast.  I was totally wrong and there was no public entrance but a locked gate.  So we headed further North and boondocked for the night in the national forest near the Sunriver exit off I-97.  There must have been a last-minute cancellation and we were able to get one night at La Pine State Park which was great as there are lots of hiking, running and mountain biking trails to enjoy and the beautiful Deschutes River.  It was flowing pretty fast so I did not pull out the paddleboard.  The next day we headed to Cove Palisades State Park.  We were surprised to see there was availability in the Summer in Loops A, B and C.  Note: DO NOT STAY at Loops A, B or C (called Deschutes campground) there are no views, no hiking or biking trails and no shade- its super-hot and not very interesting!  You want to stay at loop E (crooked River Campground) It has trails, is closer to the Day Use area and a much nicer campground.  We typically never do full hookups but we were super happy that we did as the temperatures go to 98 and as it was the first time, we ran our AC all afternoon, evening and night! 

We were happy to head out at 5:30am the next morning and stopped at the Maupin City Park.  It is an amazing spot, great shade, full hookups and a dock to paddleboard or swim or put in your kayak or raft.  It is quite spendy at $48.00.  I enjoyed a paddle on the river and we relaxed with beers in the shade with our awning out.  While at Maupin we met the City Park Manager and her husband the Maupin City manager who are super friendly and wealth of information! If you want a guided trip down the Deschutes feel free to contact Forward Paddle which is managed by Greg’s cousin The next day we went for bike rides on the Deschutes BLM Access Road.  We then found in the next 6 miles 6 different primitive campgrounds that were only $8 during the week $12 on the weekends and 50% off for Access and Golden Passholders. Next time, when we don’t need AC all night we will definitely stay at one of those.  During the week, they all had available spots.  I would not recommend anything over 32 feet the spots are small. 

The next day we reached Bonair Winery again and could begin our track to Idaho and Montana.  Those stories to come in the next blog.  So here are your call to actions:

  1. If you hear an engine knocking sound go to Mercedes first and make sure nothing is wrong with your engine.
  2. If its your second alternator call Volta Power Systems first and have them help you find the right Winnebago Service Center that has a certified Volta technican
  3. Then call Winnebago customer care to get warranty to cover it and work with Volta and the service center to get all the necessary parts. 
  4. If you have to get a service center that doesn’t have a Volta certified technican make sure they call Volta technical support first before installing your alternator so they unhook power, turn of system and install it correctly!
  5. If you aren’t a Harvest Host member and want a 15% discount here is our link and here are the websites of Bonaire Winery and Summerfield Winery.
  6. Here are the websites for La Pine State Park and Maupin City Park.
  7. Here is the website for Forward Paddle if you want to do a guided trip on the Deschutes River
  8. Here is the link to the video for this trip.

advice, COVID-19, full-time RVing, Travel, VanLife

On the Road to Eastern Oregon

We are back on the road, yeah!  As Oregon and much of the USA is starting to re-open and even in some places in phase 3 of 4 phases of re-opening, it seemed we would be okay to head back out. Plus, Newport allowed vacation rentals to begin hosting guests again, so our beach house has been rented and we need to move on before guests arrived.  Before hitting the road, we called several BLM, Forest Service and state park offices and they all said YES, WE ARE OPEN, so we headed back out on June 8th.  We decided it was time to explore Eastern Oregon, being Oregonians most of our lives it is a shame we haven’t explored it more, so here we go. We like to limit our daily driving to less than 125 miles, so we took our time heading toward Eastern Oregon.

As we left the coast, we stopped first at a nice boondocking spot on Highway 20 after Sweet Home by the Willamette National Forest sign, past Cascadia Campground but there was zero cell coverage and we needed to make sure our guests got in okay.  After dinner we headed back up Highway 20 east past Tombstone Pass where there is a nice snow park (Lava Lake) with cell reception that we boondocked for the night.  The next morning after breakfast we headed to Bend where we took a friend’s advice to boondock on BLM lands near Pine Mountain Observatory.  It is very secluded, pretty much just sage brush, cows and miles of pretty rough dirt roads (we call is moon dust because it is fine and just gets into everything).  If you like seclusion you will like this area, we got a little tired after driving 10 miles on rough dirt roads before we could find a good pull off stop.  We’d suggest boondocking at the big flat parking lot by the Badlands instead, as its super easy and not far off Highway 20.  We saw several RVs stopped there and the Badlands is a great place to hike with your four-legged friend.

The next day, we stopped at Chickahominy Reservoir which is a great BLM camp spot for only $8 a night/ $4 for Golden and Access Pass holders.  There are several waterfront sites (28 total sites), they are spacious and dispersed a good distance between each other that you feel you almost have the lake to yourself.  It is stocked twice a year with rainbow trout and there were several anglers fishing the banks and in boats.  The location has a fish cleaning station, picnic tables, fire-rings, drinking water, trash cans, vault restrooms and a boat ramp.  We enjoyed this spot for a couple of days and did bike rides and runs around the reservoir.

We then ventured to Chukar Park near Juntura, Oregon another BLM camp spot which was only $5 a night/ $2.50 Golden and Access Pass holders.  It was more primitive, with just picnic tables, fire rings, vault toilets and the water wasn’t turned on yet when we were there.  It is set next to the Malheur River but its very overgrown so you can’t see the River, there are nice full sun and shade sites depending on your interests.

Next, we boondocked about ¾ mile past Snively Hot Springs in the Owyhee Wilderness on Snively Gulch Road.  It is a fairly even and flat gravel area along the Owyhee River that leads to the Owyhee Reservoir.  We stayed there a couple of days and only ventured to the Hot Springs once, as it rained so much that the water was really muddy and not to appealing.  The hot springs felt great and there are two pools one quite hot and the other more luke warm.  We decided to head up to the state park and check out the main campground by the dam.  There are many boondocking spots along the river all the way to the dam, the road gets very narrow and up against steep cliffs with a lot of rock falls (we saw a rock fall on the vehicle ahead of us).  It gets a bit stressful as there are a lot of large trucks hauling boats and 5th wheels and barely enough room to pass each other in many spots.  The state park campground is nice with 67 campsites at McCormick Campground and then Indian Creek Campground around the bend both  having full electrical hook ups and tent primitive sites, with showers, bathrooms, trash, fresh water, dump station, fire rings and picnic tables.

We had a lot of wind and rain for June so we decided to head to some sun and heat in Idaho and ventured to Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey Conservation Area outside of Boise, Idaho.  Do not take the short route on Google Maps that goes directly to the boondocking spots it takes you to private property and you cannot take the road through.  You need to go through Kuna and down Swan Falls Road, a much better route.  Idaho Power actually maintains 18 campsites even with trash cans with picnic tables and fire rings, we saw an employee every morning going to and cleaning out camp spots. Please be a conscientious camper and don’t dispose of trash that does not burn or cans in firepits as there are dumpsters just up the road at the dam and boat ramp. After the 18 they maintain then it turns to BLM camp spots that are not very well maintained and are more primitive.  The road is a mixture of hard dirt and gravel, there are parts that are very rutted out.  I would recommend 4X4 Class B and C and smaller truck trailer RVs.  We were surprised to see a Class A size 5th wheel make it down the road and into one of the sites, I wouldn’t recommend it though unless you are very confident about your driving skill and rig.

You may stay here free for 14 days, it’s a beautiful spot on the Snake River and amazing wildlife to view. We saw so many birds of prey (falcons, hawks, eagles, osprey, pelican), coyotes, lizards, a rattlesnake or bull snake, jumping bass and deer, the wind is super strong here.  There are rattlesnakes so watch out!  We ran into a baby snake in our camp, ground squirrels and there are ground hog like looking animals everywhere.  It is also a popular place for locals to rock climb, fish and play in the river.  Watch out for some fast vehicles going down the dirt road if you are biking or running.  We hope you may enjoy visiting these spots.  Below are hyperlinks to the descriptions and GPS coordinates from freecampsites.net.  Next week, we will tell you about our stay in the McCall, Idaho area and our request from our subscribers to help us plan the rest of our Summer and Fall travels.

  1. Tombstone Snow park
  2. Badlands by Bend, OR
  3. Chickahominy Reservoir
  4. Chukar Park
  5. Snively Gulch Road
  6. McCormick Campground
  7. Snake River
  8. Check out our video of this trip!

 

 

advice, COVID-19, full-time RVing, Travel, Uncategorized, VanLife

Manzanar Virtual Tour and boondocking in Alabama Hills & Death Valley

As you head to Death Valley from Alabama Hills Recreation Area you will drive past Manzanar National Historic Site on highway 395 in California.  First off, you must stop by Alabama Hills it is an outdoors person and rock climbers dream!  So many amazing rock formations, places to climb and hike and all for free.  The best boondocking ever!  We can also recommend free camping at WildRose in Death Valley.  It is a very long drive to this campground, skinny road and very windy (we would not recommend any rigs bigger than 30 feet to attempt) that only has picnic tables, fire rings, a vault toilet and potable water but it is on your way to seeing the WildRose Charcoal Kilns, (the road is gravel and pretty rough) which are pretty cool and a nice hike to Wildrose Peak that is about 8 miles roundtrip.  We went in winter time/early spring so it was quite cool (temperature that is). If you can get in, we’d rather recommend staying at Texas Spring Campground it is a good central location, much warmer, prettier and better facilities but costs $16/night.  Now back to Manzanar…

Being an Asian American, I had to stop and visit the WW2 relocation center and I highly recommend stopping for a self-guided tour.  It is very well done and reminds us of the atrocities we faced in this country during fears of war and people who looked different and had a different cultural background.  In 1942, the United States government ordered more than 100,000 men, women, and children to leave their homes and detained them in remote, military-style camps like the Manzanar War Relocation Center which was one of ten camps where Japanese American citizens were incarcerated during World War II.  People of Japanese decent who were US citizens from across this country lost all their possessions, dignity and were forced into these Relocation Centers. 

A little history course for folks who may not be aware.  Relocation isn’t new in the history of Manzanar and the Owens Valley. We can’t forget that the Paiute and early settlers as well as Japanese Americans all were uprooted from their homes. American Indians began utilizing the valley almost 10,000 years ago. About 1,500 years ago the Owens Valley Paiute established settlements here. They hunted, fished, collected pine nuts, and practiced a form of irrigated agriculture.  Miners and ranchers moved into the valley in the early 1860s and homesteaded Paiute lands raising cattle, sheep, fruit, wheat, and other crops. The military were called in and forcibly relocated nearly 1,000 Owens Valley Paiute to Fort Tejon in 1863. Many Paiute returned to the Owens valley and worked on the local ranches.

The town of Manzanar—the Spanish word for “apple orchard”—developed as an agricultural settlement beginning in 1910. Farmers grew apples, pears, peaches, potatoes, and alfalfa on several thousand acres surrounding the town. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power began acquiring water rights in the valley in 1905 and completed the Los Angeles Aqueduct in 1913. Land buyouts continued in the 1920s, and by 1929 Los Angeles owned all of Manzanar’s land and water rights. Within five years, the town was abandoned. In the 1930s local residents pinned their economic hopes on tourism. With the onset of World War II tourism diminished.  Then in 1942 the U.S. Army leased 6,200 acres at Manzanar from Los Angeles to hold Japanese Americans during World War II. Though some valley residents opposed the construction of the internment camp, others helped build it and worked there.

First, we walked through the mini museum that is very well done and tells the stories of the families that lived here during the WW2 internment.  There is a 3.2-mile self-guided auto tour where you can see the original sentry posts, Block 14 buildings, mess hall, women’s latrine and barracks, the cemetery monument, remnants of the administrative complex, rock gardens, parks, orchards, the hospital grounds, the uncovered foundations of the Children’s Village  which was the only orphanage of the ten War Relocation Centers in the US.  In the museum, you will find images Ansel Adams took in late 1943 where he acknowledges the prejudices and fears that led the U.S. government to confine American citizens and legal immigrants of Japanese ethnicity behind barbed wire.

From the website, I wanted to provide you more details on what is still on the property and what you will encounter in the video.

Mess Hall: The US Army constructed this mess hall at Bishop Air Base in 1942. The National Park Service moved it to Manzanar in 2002 and eventually restored it. It is identical to the 36 mess halls that together produced over 28 million meals here from 1942 to 1945. Walk through the kitchen, sit at the picnic benches, and learn about the logistics and politics of food in Manzanar.

Women’s Latrine: The women’s latrine was reconstructed in 2017. The communal shower and rows of toilets depict some of the harsh realities of living at Manzanar. Overcrowding led to long lines, unpleasant odors, and an extreme lack of privacy.

Barracks Buildings: The two barracks buildings were rebuilt in 2015 with exhibits being added in the following years. The four barracks exhibits will tell you about arrival to Manzanar, the importance of the Block Manager’s Office, the loyalty questionnaire, school at Manzanar, and more.

Cemetery: In 1943 the people in Manzanar decided to erect a monument to honor their dead and skilled stonemason Ryozo Kado was recruited to supervise the work. The cemetery serves as a poignant reminder that some of the 10,000 Japanese Americans incarcerated at Manzanar never saw freedom again. Over 145 Japanese Americans died while confined in Manzanar during World War II. Many were cremated, in the Buddhist tradition, and some were sent to their home towns for burial. Fifteen people were buried in a small plot of land just outside the camp’s security fence. When Manzanar War Relocation Center closed, the families of nine of the deceased removed the remains of their loved ones for reburial elsewhere. In 1999, NPS archeologists confirmed that five burials remain at the site. The three characters on the front (east side) of the cemetery monument literally translate as “soul consoling tower” ( I REI TO ). The inscriptions were written by a Manzanar Buddhist priest, Shinjo Nagatomi.

Merritt Park: The people incarcerated at Manzanar left a lasting legacy by creating more than 100 Japanese gardens. The largest of the gardens was Merritt Park, named for the camp director, Ralph P. Merritt. Merritt Park served as community refuge from the hardships of camp. After Manzanar closed in 1945, many of the gardens disappeared as debris from demolished barracks, sand, and vegetation covered them. Recent archeological excavations have uncovered and stabilized some of these gardens including Merritt Park. Today you can view what’s left of this symbol of beauty and the resilience of the human spirit.

Japanese Garden Tour: Private and community gardens covered much of the Manzanar landscape. For many people, these rock gardens and pools served as a source of peace and an escape from their incarceration experience. Today, eleven of the over 100 Japanese gardens have been uncovered and stabilized.

The location was beautiful but also a sad reminder about how we treated fellow Americans.  It makes you sad to see how people were forced to live and were ripped from all their loved ones and their belongings because of a war.   How our fears caused us to overlook people who were citizens and part of our community and treated them like they were enemies because of their former homeland that they had left for a new life in the USA.  Perhaps, it is a reminder about how we can do better in the present and future generations of immigrant people.  We hope you enjoy watching our virtual tour.   

advice, COVID-19, full-time RVing, Travel, VanLife

Getting Ready to Hit the Road Again

Sorry I have been out of touch for a few weeks.  As some of our subscribers learned while in Arizona my mother passed away, so I just spent 17 days cleaning out and renovating her home.

I found during the COVID-19 the worst part of having a loved one pass away for me was the lack of closure that one feels.  This was brought about because of my family not being able to have a normal celebration of life and or funeral service.  My mother was loved by many people and her sisters, best friends, past co-workers and neighbors were unable to celebrate her life in a normal way due to no group gatherings being allowed, I feel for them as I talk to them on the phone and they wait for a celebration of life to be able to occur.  As direct family we were able to visit her at her gravesite on Memorial Day and I feel for everyone else who can’t.  So my heart goes out to people who have lost a loved one during this trying time.  On a more positive note, we are about to hit the road again!  YEAH!

I thought what would be helpful is to share some of our favorite items we are packing in our van as we get ready to head back out on the road.  Especially, how we can better support our local small businesses!  Many states are heading into their Phase 2 of re-opening and Montana’s entrance to Yellowstone is opening on June 1st, so we hope to head back out on the road in the next week or two. We think we will be heading to the Owyhee in Eastern Oregon first then off to Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.  Since small businesses are the backbone of our country and the ones in greatest need right now, so they don’t close down, I wanted to highlight a few small businesses we are supporting that you may be interested in using for your next adventure or daily life.

  1. northteaA great herbal tea. If you are like me, I am super sensitive to caffeine, so after noon I need to transition to caffeine free drinks.  I love Metolius Artisan Tea Company, they have a fantastic North tea  that is a sweet and spicy blend of coconut, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, licorice and peppercorn. Amy and her team are an awesome small business in Bend, Oregon that have created many yummy tea blends for you to enjoy!
  2. hdyroflask10barrelAmazing containers to keep your drinks cold or hot. Another great local Bend business is Hydroflask. I love our water bottles, coffee mugs, wine glasses that keep our drinks hot and cold.  If it is enjoying an ice-cold beer, a whiskey on the rocks or our morning coffee or tea.  What I also appreciate is how much Hydroflask and Scott’s team support local non-profits and are so active in our community.  For example, they sponsored our Surfrider Central Oregon Conservation Summit last Summer!
  3. If you like IPAs and craft beers then we need to highlight our buddies from 10 Barrel Brewing who gave us a case of beer to kick off our trip. They are also big supporters of Surfrider and a bunch of our events.  We enjoy Apocalypse IPA.
  4. 1-lb-bag-italian-roastOf course, there must be the coffee beans! One of our favorites is Bend local Strictly Organic Coffee Roasters and their Italian Roast Blend.   Not only are they organic, free trade, sustainable but amazing supporters in the community.  Last year, the team at Strictly Organic supported our International Women’s Day event at their Bond and Old Mill District establishments!
  5. Easy to travel and takes up little space is canned Albacore Tuna and canned Salmon. Locally, in Newport, Oregon is Chelsea Rose.  Tchelasearosehey work with the local fishermen and buy their fish and sell it to the public.  Great quality, amazing prices and they ship to you.  I love a great tuna salad sandwich or niçoise salad with these wild caught ingredients.
  6. dockboxEasy to cook seafood meals. If you are like us and love some good seafood.  In Newport, Oregon is Local Ocean and they create a weekly DockBox you can order.  It has easy instructions and easily covers two meals for two people.  Unfortunately, you need to be in Newport, Portland or Corvallis, Oregon to order but we highly suggest this awesome business who is supporting the local fishing industry and dock workers in Newport! This week we are trying Seared Coho Salmon and Pink Shrimp Crostini.
  7. BBWA good whiskey is always nice after one of those long day drives. Crater Lake Distillery in partnership with Deschutes Brewery created the yummy Black Butte Whiskey. I highly recommend this yummy Whiskey dry on the rocks.
  8. humI am a big Kombucha fan and I use to brew my own Kombucha since many were just too sweet for me. But in our small van there just isn’t room to do kombucha brewing so I am a big fan of local Bend business Humm Kombucha.   They have also released a no sugar version called Humm zero!  I am a big fan of ginger lemonade and the hopped grapefruit (does have sugar but isn’t too sweet).  Jamie Danek the CEO is an amazing leader and super involved in the community and was one of our first speakers at TedxBendWomen!
  9. E-Bikes make life so fun and easy when you are on the road. Thanks to San Diego Fly Rides, the largest dealer of e-Bikes in the USA.  They have wonderful customer service, free shipping and great discounts on e-Bikes!  We are proud owners of two new Cube e-Bikes!  We highly suggest working with the team!

  10. IMG_3958People have asked what is the best bedding for your campervan and we have to go with the durable, beautiful and very comfortable Pendleton Wool Blankets! Made in Eastern Oregon, these amazing blankets rarely need to be washed, look super nice and are very warm!  Another great Oregon business!
advice, COVID-19, full-time RVing, Travel, VanLife

Importance & Guidance for Your RV Shake Down Tour

leavingtrip1Hi folks, so we have been on the road now for over 4 months.  During this time the COVID-19 has struck and the world as we know it has become topsy turvy!  Some may think it’s crazy to be on the road, while others think that is the best way to do social distancing and still live your life.  As of April 16th, our beach vacation rental was required to shut down so we drove to Newport, Oregon and are sheltering in place until more of the country opens back up.

I am going back four months to our first shake down tour we did right after purchasing our Winnebago Boldt, we highly recommend all new CamperVanners and RVers do this!  For those who like to watch videos instead of reading- you can check out the video on our YouTube Channel here.

We’d suggest to give yourselves more days near your dealer.  We had a dog sitter so we only had 2 weeks to go over 4,500 miles since it was Winter we decided to take the longer Southern route from Iowa to Oregon.  It is good to experience all weather conditions but having high wind, snow, freezing rain and tornado watch was a bit much!  If we could do it over, we would have waited for better weather and had a dog sitter for longer.  We would have driven a few hundred miles near the dealer so we could return and get items fixed.  When items started breaking down we were already 1500 miles into our adventure and did not feel like going all the way back to Iowa to get them fixed.  So we began keeping a list with detailed pictures.  Warranty will require pictures of everything you are asking to be fixed!

In our first four days, we found 16 items that needed to be fixed that we did not find in our Delivery Orientation and Winnebago missed in their inspection and our dealer Lichtsinn missed in their pre-delivery inspection!  When you are in a four-hour orientation by the end your brain is dead and all the information is running together and you just want to get away and drive your rig into the great outdoors. We have created a list for you below to help you through the walk through.  In our previous videos and blogs we described everything that went wrong and you can find in our Facebook review, I won’t restate them all here.  Winnebago also made it right after we posted a Facebook review and fixed all the items after a lot of back and forth so we are now mostly satisfied with our Boldt BL now.  What we will highlight is how to prepare picking up your rig, the weather conditions, route and cool stops/boondocks we did along our trip from Forest City, Iowa back to Bend, Oregon via a Southern Route, since it was Winter.

Prior to arriving to Forest City, Iowa, we read all the manuals for the Boldt, Mercedes and appliances/systems in our van.  We watched a number of YouTube videos on what to do when you pick up your new RV.  We made a list of questions for things we did not understand and weren’t clear in the manuals.  I then visited Campendium, freecampsites.net, BLM and National Parks websites to build out an excel trip of possible places we would stay.  I tried to keep our miles travel daily to less than 250 miles, put where we could stay for free, what campsite pricing and places, where there were RV hookups if we needed to plug in because of super cold weather (as we had snow and freezing rain conditions along our route).  I downloaded Gas Buddy and Pacific Pride fueling apps to make sure we knew where to get gas and where to get the best deals for Diesel. I downloaded a bunch of audiobooks, ebooks and music for the trip.  I also purchased from Amazon these two products that turn your iPhone into a semi-professional camera to document our trip with lenses, microphone and tripods.  (add link) We also boughtthis dongle that enables your ipad or iphone to project onto the Boldt TV, we have had challenges watching some shows that block airplay.  Fun for watching Netflix . PrimeVideo and AppleTV and other content.  (If you know how to download non HEC quality video on AppleTV, please tell me on comments-then we could watch more shows).

We left at 3am on January 7th, thanks to my amazing mentee Rebekah who drove us at that ungodly hour and watched Bode for the next two weeks as we did our initial van tour.  We landed in Minneapolis, MN where we were picked up at the airport and taken to Lichtsinn for a 1.5 hour drive.   Just our luck we arrived before a huge Winter storm that was traveling though the Midwest and along our trip route.  The temperature was dropping to 5 degrees Fahrenheit with crazy wind at 20 mph with 30 mph gusts.  We would be spending the first night in our new RV.  Note to new RVers, even if your rig is 4 season when it is 5 degrees it isn’t the time to fill it with water.  We were frustrated as we were new to RVing and did not know whether we should have our tanks filled or not and Lichtsinn kept asking us do we want it filled or not. We kept asking them well you have been doing this for years and selling Boldts would you or not?  Finally, the service guy said don’t and wait till the morning where the temperature will rise to 40 degrees.  We flew business class so we could bring 4 large duffel bags for ‘free’ full of the items we would need for the next two weeks.  Here is what I brought to help you when planning to pick up your rig and how to do the minimum of shopping on the road, we ended up using almost all these items (I have hyperlinked as many of the items I think are harder to find, we are Amazon Associates so we may receive fees for qualifying purchases you purchase):

Gear: Foldable steel shovel (came in handy as we had to dig ourselves out of soft sand at White Sands National Park boondocking spot), hatchet, 2 backpacks with Platypus water reservoirs, snow tire chains,headlamps, bandannas, ski buffs (for COVID-19 this became our face masks), sun hats, baseball hats, stocking caps, gloves, headlamps, bandannas, ski buffs (for COVID-19 this became our face masks), sun hats, baseball hats, Pendleton wool shirts, puffy jackets, rain jackets, fleece jackets, flip-flops, running shoes, hiking boots, use compression bags for storing your clothes, minimum clothes for two weeks, two sets of walking sticks, a dry bag, a rope clothes line, bear spray, mosquito repellant, two REI small foldable outdoor chairs, and a small racket set with pliers, wrench, screw driver, electrical tape, plumbers’ tape, a Leatherman’s and gear to turn iphone into a vlogging camera.

Food and eating ware: knives, silverware, two bowls, two plates, beer cozies, spatula, wooden spoon, ladle, electric water kettle, induction espresso stove top, salt, pepper (the costsco set that you can refill are nice size & affordable) and bulk spices (I get bulk spices at Food for Less or Winco and keep them in reusable resealable bags), tea bags, coffee beans, lentils, split peas, coconut milk, diced tomatoes, canned tomato sauce, packets of miso soup, buckwheat udon noodles, rice noodles, dried mushrooms, orzo, brown rice, spaghetti, oatmeal (my special mix of pumpkin seeds, chia feeds, flax seeds, cashews and almonds), olive oil, sesame oil, hoisin sauce, instant pot, set of collapsible Tupperware bowls, collapsible colander, collapsible steamer, and suction lid. Yes, I even packed 2 bottles of wine (wrapped well with sheets and blankets) to celebrate when we arrive if we were too tired to head to the grocery store.

Living items: 2 rags, 2 wash clothes, two body towels, two kitchen hand towels (we recommend for all these towels to use camp quick dry towels they are easier to store and hand wash), 2 sets of flannel XL twin sheets (if you have a Winnebago Boldt or Travato these fit well), 2 twin Pendleton blankets (warm durable and you don’t have to wash often), four Hydroflasks (32oz and 24 oz and travel mug) water bottles, two silicone pints for hot and cold beverages and the dollar store has great storage bins that are 9X9X9 and 10X2X6 that fit in your cupboards and can organize your food and stack well to get the most of your cupboard space.  Really helpful were a small hand dustpan and sweeper, lighter, razor to cut hair and men’s electric razor, facial wipes, Costco disinfectant wipes (these came really handed during COVID-19), Dr. Bronner’s Lavender soap (can be used for shampoo, body wash, clothes washing detergent, and washing dishes or as a mouthwash and it won’t make you sick if you eat it), hand sanitizer, hydrogen peroxide, alcohol, (with COVID-19 we have ended up using this daily to clean our phones and car handles), zinc spray (I spray this on an onset of a cold and its gone by morning), cold medicine, allergy medication, eye drops, Band-Aids, first aid kit, little foldable trashcan, holder hangers, small plastic bags from vegetables you get at the store for the trash can (reuse all  that plastic we get) or use these reusable veggie bags (we do both) and of course travel scrabble, Farkle, cards, kindle, Atlas, Journal, laptop, and cell phones with chargers.  We had delivered to the dealer from Amazon: induction sauté pan and 2-quart pot, drying rack, straw outdoor rug, weboost cell phone booster and Scrubba clothes washer bag.  We used all these items except the hatchet and snow chains but good to have just in case! Yes, all this fit in four large rolling duffel bags (we got two from Costco and previously had two)!

Couple items we did not have but now being on the road we wish we would have had:  sponge holder trasharoo to put your trash outside the vehicle on your spare tire,  Berkey water filter system, gloves for sewer dumping, sewer 10 foot hose and elbow, sewer trash can to hold elbow and tank flush hose.

We headed to the grocery store to grab some sparkling water, beer, fruit and vegetables to add to our meals.  I then unpacked everything, loaded up our van, made our beds, made us vegetarian lentil soup for dinner (instant pot makes life easier), played a game of scrabble and then hunkered down for a cold windy night (we were toasty warm).  We were a little disappointed that Lichtsinn knew we were going to stay the night in our vehicle and they knew it was going to be 5 degrees and our rig wasn’t fully charged when we would need to have the tank warmers on.  By the morning, we were down to 12% charge and since the Volta system batteries were below 40 degrees the system didn’t even allow them to charge!  It took about 2 days of living in the van before the batteries were able to accept a charge.  Sub-optimal customer service, especially when it appeared, they had plenty of room in the heated garage to pre-heat our van.  So specifically tell your dealer you want your vehicle fully charged before you arrive.  We thought we had made that clear but apparently we did not or they couldn’t be bothered.  At 8am we headed into our 4-hour Orientation.  By the end your brain is dead and you are not going to remember all the questions you needed to ask.  After the fact, here is a checklist we wish we had during our walkthrough that could have resolved a bunch of issues before we hit the road.  The first three items we did and were so glad we did and were surprised many owners don’t do this from what our service guy told us.

  1. Read all the manuals and have questions written down on anything that is unclear or you don’t understand. Ask these before you jump into your orientation.  Save all the manuals electronically on your laptop and phones so you can access when you need on the road a Google or Sky Drive won’t work as you will be in areas where there is no cell coverage and won’t be able to open them up or download.
  2. Download and bring along with you a RV inspection checklist, we should have used this one from Changing Gears that is very detailed.
  3. Record videos on your phone on how to use everything, that way when you forget you can play it back later. Save these both on your phone and a virtual drive.
  4. Check to ensure that your indoor and outdoor showers are hot when hot indicator is selected. (our hot and cold were switched, brrrr) Don’t forget to make sure your shower head is located in the right spot (ours was 1.5 inches lower than specification)
  5. Make a detailed inspection of the outdoor and indoor of your rig and look for scratches and dings this is the only time you can get these fixed and not get blamed as typical wear and tear on the outside of your van, inside cabinets, floor, in bathroom (we found a few)! Get on your ladder and check out the roof did they seal in leaves when they sealed your roof, is your roof box to help you access the inside to install antennas damaged? (ours had leaves and damage) Have them give you some touch up paint for the outside of your rig.

These next items are specific to campervans and the Winnebago Boldt:

  1. Check to make sure that all your drains and pumps work and are installed properly. (Our shower drain was installed backwards).
  2. Check your toolbox in your Sprinter, that is under the floor of the passenger seat, has all the tools it is supposed to have we thought an item was missing but they make a spot for pliers but don’t give you any.
  3. Make sure your Rolef screens (if you have them) are installed properly (ours had a big hole that insects could fly through defeating the purpose of the screen, we didn’t notice this until we got to Texas and had it open by the lake and had bugs fly into our vehicle when it was down)
  4. Check all your drawers and cabinets to ensure they lock and pull in and out properly
  5. Make sure your Truma dial has the right flat head screw installed (pull the dial off and check) If not, have them install the right one or it won’t work properly (it won’t properly ‘click’ when setting temp)
  6. Check the Nova Kool Refrigerator and ensure the screw in the top right corner is screwed all the way, so it won’t fall off and it is positioned correctly on the refrigerator (ours fell off after 3 days of driving, we had LaMesa RV Tucson install new hinges supplied by Nova Kool and it fell off again)
  7. Check the slats under your bed mattress to make sure they are all functional (we had two plastic slats that were faulty and did not keep the wood slats in place after doing down a bumpy dirt road), your bed leg holder that keeps the bed up while you are accessing storage is soldered properly and won’t break later on in your trip (ours has), and the levelers on your bed legs are installed properly and won’t fall off once you are on a bumpy road (ours did)
  8. Make sure your Sprinter Ladder has the lock installed and you have the key (in forums we heard some owners did not get theirs)

I can see this blog is already too long, so I am going postpone information on our route and great boondocking spots from Iowa to Oregon for my next blog to not overwhelm you with too much information!  We already made a Carlsbad Caverns National Monument video and blog, check back on past posts.  After the route I will also do White Sands National Park as its own blog and video! They are both awesome stops near each other in New Mexico that you must visit!  After those we will then highlight the rest of our California Coast Trip and our trip before we had to head back to Newport, Oregon. We hope these lists are helpful in preparing you when you get your new rig!  Enjoy the Vanlife or RVing! Many of you have asked for more Bode pictures so until next week enjoy Bode relaxing enjoying the sunset on our new grass mat and checking out the climbers at Joshua Tree. Cheers!

 

COVID-19, full-time RVing, Travel, VanLife

Carlsbad Caverns National Park Virtual Tour

IMG_2593On April 13th, 2020 our one-year expedition to all the National Parks and Monuments got put on pause.  As our subscribers know, I finally listened to Greg and sold my business and officially retired in December 2019 and after a year of research we decided to purchase a 2020 Winnebago Boldt BL in January of 2020.  We did our shake down trip and drove from Iowa to Oregon via a southern route through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and California.  When we got home, we had several fixes for our Winnebago, (video to come soon check out our Boldt Review Video) and headed out on our second trip to see the California Coast and Highway one.  Unfortunately, during that trip Bode got a few ticks (it seemed to be a crazy tick season on the California Coast this Spring) and we headed back to do some reorganizing and ensure Bode was tick free before we started our full-time vanlife.

At the end of February, we decided to hit the road and go South to National Parks and Monuments through out California, Arizona, Utah and then determine where to go next.  Our house in Bend got full-time renters from California deciding if Central Oregon would be their new home and our vacation rental on the Oregon Coast was booked solid with guests, so the full-time vanlife began!

Then in the middle of March, COVID-19 starting making huge impact across our country and California began shutting down various outdoors spaces.  BLM lands and national forests were still open but we decided we needed to head to Arizona where many outdoor spaces were still open and one could find plenty of open spaces.  By April, we could see the writing on the wall as more and more forest roads were being blocked off and while we were in Utah calling parks we were told if you aren’t a Utah resident you are not welcome.

Greg’s Dad called us with our weekly mail update and read us a letter from the City of Newport telling us vacation rentals had been shut down and to please remove your guests and ensure no reservations until end of April.  We threw in the towel and headed to Newport on April 13th from Kanab, Utah.  We now have been hunkering down at our beach house for a while now.  While we were on the road we did not realize how little coverage there was in many of our parks, therefore, we got way behind in our video taping and blogging.   Now that we are in full WIFI zone we are revisiting all our trips to bring you the most interesting places to visit and where to boondock in the coming weeks until we can hit the road again.  This week I’ll be highlighting Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico.  We did the self-guided tour.

Carlsbad Caverns National Monument is located in the Chihuahuan Desert about 20 miles southwest of Carlsbad, New Mexico and about 145 miles northeast of El Paso, Texas.  It is an amazing geological site and we highly recommend it for all to see.  It was created 265 million years ago by an inland sea through fossil beds and it contains over one hundred limestone caves.

Carlsbad’s caves formed differently than typical caves.  Typical caves are formed by rainwater slowly dissolving the limestone.  Water then sinks through enlarged fractures and sinkholes eventually growing to become underground streams and rivers that carve out cave systems. While inside the Guadalupe Mountains, between four and six million years ago, hydrogen-sulfide-rich (H2S) waters began to migrate through fractures and faults in the Capitan limestone. This water mixed with rainwater moving downward from the surface. When the two waters mixed, the H2S combined with the oxygen carried by the rainwater and formed sulfuric acid (H2SO4). This acid dissolved the limestone along fractures and folds in the rock to form Carlsbad Cavern. This process left behind massive gypsum deposits, clay, and silt as evidence of how the cave was formed.  With time, the active level dropped to form deeper cave passages. In abandoned cave passages above, blocks fell from the ceiling and speleothems (cave formations) began to grow. Around four million years ago, speleogenesis ceased in the area around Carlsbad Cavern and the cave began to take on the look it has today. (Taken from https://www.nps.gov/cave/learn/nature/cave.htm) The cavern itself is over 30 miles long but only 3 miles is open to the public.  (Information below is a mixture taken directly from the website and from my memory of the tour and brochures.)

We started at the Nature Trail entrance and then ended at the Big Room Trail and took the elevator back to the top. The 1.25 mile (2 km) Natural Entrance Trail is extremely steep. Depending on if you decide to hike up or down, you gain or lose about 750 feet (229 m)—equivalent to walking up or down a 75-story building. The hike takes about one hour (on average) to completeThis trail is not recommended for visitors with heart or respiratory conditions.  It is not handicap accessible.

You have the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of early explorers as you see formations like Devil’s Spring, the Whale’s Mouth, and Iceberg Rock (these are all in the video below).  The Iceberg Rock fell from the Cavern Ceiling and it’s a 200,000-ton rock you will see on the trail.  The Big Room, is the largest single cave chamber by volume in North America. This 1.25 mile (2 km) trail is relatively flat, and will take about 1.5 hours (on average) to walk it. Actor and comedian Will Rogers called the cavern, “The Grand Canyon with a roof over it.” You will be rewarded with spectacular views, cave formations of all shapes and sizes, and a rope ladder used by explorers in 1924.  Parts of the Big Room Trail are wheelchair accessible. You can ask for more information about accessibility at the visitor center. I have included their Accessibility Brochure

The lighting system in the cavern is amazing!  There are over 19 miles of wiring and 1,000 light bulbs through out the 3 miles you will walk to be able to see the amazing geological formations.  I have never seen such different types of stalactites and stalagmites.  At the very end you can take an elevator from the bottom of the cavern floor to 75 stories or 754 feet up to the visitor’s center.  The elevator trip takes one minute as the elevator travels 9 mph. The elevator shaft is 1.5 times the height of the Washington Monument. The first two elevators were created in 1931 and the second two in 1955.  All were replaced in 1977.

After our amazing tour we headed to our boondocking campsite called Chosa Campground maintained by BLM.   The Chosa Campground is a large, hard-packed, level gravel lot immediately off a paved road (Dillahunty Road). It is conveniently located about 7 miles south of Carlsbad Caverns National Park on US Route 180, this campground has three trash cans and is big rig friendly.   We had a nice view of the Chihuahuan Desert and since we were there in the winter there were only 5 other rigs in the lot with us.  The stars were out in full force and it was very quiet and serene. We hope you enjoy our virtual tour.  Cheers!

advice, COVID-19, full-time RVing, Travel, VanLife

Virtual Tour Badger Springs Trail at Agua Fria National Monument, Arizona

IMG_4268So a little food for thought…  We are a few months in on living the full-time vanlife.  When we made this decision to rent our homes and go full-time for a year to visit all our US National Parks, monuments and beautiful outdoor spaces there was not an inkling of the global pandemic.  When you no longer have a home to go to, what do you do during a pandemic?  You try to be super diligent and responsible citizens.

We try to only use shopping services with curbside pick up at the store such as Walmart’s Grocery App and pick-up groceries (once a week or less).  We have the Pacific Pride Commercial Gas cardlock so we don’t go to ‘normal’ gas stations unless we need to fill with DEF (which may not be available at all cardlock locales).  We have focused on staying at BLM (Bureau of Land Management) public lands dispersed camping to avoid people and other RVers.  When there is a national park or monument or state park that is open we go very early in the morning and avoid other people and look for dispersed campsites or primitive campsites with the minimum people.  Once in a while though you must go to a park where there are people so you can dump and refill water, sometimes there are rest stops or gas stations that allow you to do this.

As I watch social media, people are being pretty harsh and disrespectful to RVers and vanlifers.  Saying we are irresponsible and making the pandemic worse.  We are seeing more and more of our outdoor spaces close, which we understand may be the right thing to do to slow the curve but there are many Americans who do live the RV life full-time who are struggling to find a spot to shelter in place.  Many of the RV private places are very expensive and difficult for those who have chosen this life to pay $75 a night for months on end and many have also closed.  We are lucky we have a lot of solar and lithium batteries to be able to be off the grid but many can’t live like us.  I understand folks being upset about RVers on the road but they must also understand not everyone can hunker down in their homes and stay in one place when they don’t have a home to stay at.  We need to have empathy and understanding that people can be responsible adults, do the right thing and that they are not out to be irresponsible and trying to make the pandemic worse but have no other choice because they made this choice of a different lifestyle.  I have spoken to friends where they see several people who are living in a home and going to the grocery store daily and come closer than 6 feet on trails and causing more issues than many RVers.  So how can we come together and help each other do the right thing when we have people with homes on wheels?  Can we stop shaming, lecturing and give more positive advice and understanding?  Can we be more supportive of people with different lifestyles?  Lets help each other, those who have stationary homes and homes on wheels be able to live and still flatten the curve.

So on to the virtual tour…

For those of you following us, who  have asked us to continue to do virtual tours of our hikes, monuments and places we see for your children’s virtual tour and online school work.  Here is our second installment.  We were at Aqua Fria National Monument in Arizona. It is 71,000 acres and about 45 miles from Phoenix.  Quoted from the BLM webpage, “The monument encompasses two mesas and the canyon of the Agua Fria River. Elevations range from 2,150 feet above sea level along the Agua Fria Canyon to about 4,600 feet in the northern hills. The diversity of vegetative communities, topographic features, and a dormant volcano decorates the landscape with a big rocky, basaltic plateau. This expansive mosaic of semi-desert area, cut by ribbons of valuable riparian forest, offers one of the most significant systems of prehistoric sites in the American Southwest.

In addition to the rich record of human history, the monument contains outstanding biological resources. The area is the home to coyotes, bobcats, antelope, mule deer, javelina, a variety of small mammals and songbirds. Eagles and other raptors may also be seen. Native fish such as the longfin dace, the Gila mountain sucker, the Gila chub, and the speckled dace, exist in the Agua Fria River and its tributaries.”

We ended-up being able to disperse camp (boondock) about 800 yards from the Badger Springs Trailhead.  The road from the freeway is a pretty rough dirt road, very rutted out, muddy in spots and most suited for a 4×4 vehicle.  The Badger Springs Trail is an easy 1.5 mile trail that really follows the Badger Springs Wash, so don’t wear running shoes like us, unless you don’t mind wet shoes and socks.  I’d suggest a good pair of hiking boots.  The trail isn’t well marked and has a lot of cactus and cheat grass growing over the trail.   I would say not very dog friendly once Summer time hits and the cheat grass has dried, tough on their little paws.  At the time we hiked it was very green and soft.  The trail ends  as Badger Springs Wash runs into the Agua Fria River Canyon, with a small waterfall through boulders and at an archaeological spot rich with a few petroglyphs.  Here is a link to our new video- enjoy!

Here is our virtual tour on the RGBAdventures YouTube Channel, don’t forget to subscribe to our channel!  We are almost to 100 subscribers, help us get over the line.  Enjoy!

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advice, COVID-19, full-time RVing, Travel, VanLife

Camping & Exploring the Painted Rock Petrogylphs

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If you have been following us, you know we put our home in Bend for rent for a year and have moved in our 2020 Winnebago Boldt for the year and if we like it or not this is our home until March 26, 2021.  So it has been a little over a week and a half since everything began closing down all over the country due to COVID-19, while we already started our one year trip visiting all the National Parks. We headed out of Bend, OR on March 1st where everything was okay and the world was functioning like whatever was everyday normal as we knew it as Americans.

Since then, we were able to visit the Lava Beds National Monumnent, Eagle Lake, Washoe Lake, Travertine Hot Springs, Alabama Hills, Death Valley National Park, Mojave Desert National Monument and Joshua Tree National Park. (More videos and blogs to come regarding each spot.)  While in Joshua Tree, state parks and national parks across the country began to shut visitor centers and some campgrounds. Many have now waved their frees and you can visit but there are no services. We have decided to go to places where they are in BLM or National Forests where there is free dispersed camping and you are well away from other campers.  We have a Pacific Pride Cardlock to fill at commercial diesel gas stations, so no interacting with people.  The only place we have to interact is grocery store which we try to only visit once a week or less.  We are trying to utilize the Walmart Grocery free curbside pick up service, but seems like everyone is doing that too.  When in a grocery store I am using gloves, distancing myself 6 feet from other shoppers, using the self-check out and going at times where there are the least amount of people.

So far we are still able to camp.  We were at Truckhaven Palm Wash BLM area and met a super nice local who wanted to make sure we weren’t stuck without resources.  Don’t worry we social distanced ourselves- him being outside our rig and us inside talking through the window.  Mike offered us ideas on nearby places of interest, where to dump and fill our RV if we needed it.  After Truckhaven, we headed to the BLM Pilot Knob Long Term Visitor Area, where it is free camping for 14 days and you are at least 500-1,000 yards from another camper.  This is different than Imperial Sand Dunes where there are a lot of RVers that are very close to each other, we would not recommend that area.  Today we arrived at thePainted Rock Petroglyphs, which are super cool. There are very few people here and social distancing is keeping us about 500 yards from other RVers.

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The Painted Rock Petroglyph Site is located on the eastern edge of the Painted Rock Mountains and about eighteen miles west by northwest of Gila-Bend, AZ. (information pulled from Wikipedia and BLM websites) The area is mostly flat and sandy with May-Oct daytime temperatures in the 100s. While we were here it was in the mid 70s in end of March.  The annual rainfall is only about six inches and the nearest irrigation water is the Gila River. In prehistoric times the Gila flowed west out of the mountains of western New Mexico, made a big dogleg turn at the town of Gila Bend and continued west to empty into the Colorado River. The Hohokam people once lived and farmed here. Ruins of their late Pioneer Period (AD 350 – AD 550) and Early Colonial Period (AD 550 – AD 700) villages are found to the north and west, and ruins of their Sedentary – Classic Period (AD 900 – AD 1400) villages are found to the south and east.  Over forty petroglyph sites have been recorded in the area, however; most of these sites are small with only a few dozen petroglyphs. The Painted Rock Site is the largest known site with about 800 images. While on my exploration I had the entire place to myself and did not cross anyone else.  Tomorrow I am heading out with Greg and Bode to hike on the historic Butterfield Overland Stage Route this was the old Oxbow Route that had mail travel from St. Louis to San Francisco back in 1858.

I recorded a short video for you to do a virtual tour and create activities for your children while they are off from school.  ( I have had requests from friends to do these little virtual tours).  I hope you enjoy it.  Keep checking back to our blog as we keep you up to date on how our  travels are going during this time and what you can and can’t do if you are a full-time RVer in the USA right now.

advice, Travel, VanLife

Top 10 Ideas for New RVers When Preparing for a Trip

top10Hi subscribers, we are currently in Joshua Tree National Park and decided before we go back to detailing our reviews (and it’s a rain/snow mix 38 degrees) of our National Parks and best boondocking spots across the West, we thought it would be helpful to get a “Top 10 things new Vanlifer’s/ RVer’s should have or do before heading out on your trips.”  After living in our van for nearly three months here are the things that have truly made life easier on the road.

10. Foldable Durable Shovel- In our first trip, we were in the Mohave Desert going down a dirt road to a boondocking spot and the dirt was very soft due to a recent rainstorm so we got stuck. This foldable shovel we got at REI, packs away easily under our bed storage and has become helpful a number of times already.  It’s also useful for properly preparing a fire pit (digging out and disposing of ash so you can have a safer fire), or burying human or pet waste at the proper depth.

REIshovel

9. Boondocking- If you are like us, we are not too interested in staying in RV parks unless we need to dump tanks or catch up on washing clothes. We prefer more open space and would rather not listen to generators or close neighbors-we get enough of that at home. We prefer the freedom of staying off the beaten path.  Especially with Coronavirus, this helps with the new social distancing guidance.  We found having a membership with Harvest Host- we have listed a 15% discount code you can use to join has been helpful.  These are farms, vineyards and golf courses who welcome you to stay a night for free, in exchange for their hospitality, Harvest Host asks you to make a small purchase in return.  Such as, a bottle of wine, some produce, happy hour or play a round of golf.  We also found the websites freecampsites.net and Campendium to be very helpful at finding spots to camp off the beaten path.  Don’t forget to stop at BLM (Bureau of Land Management) and Forest Service Ranger Stations to also get information on the best free dispersed camping opportunities when you go into a national forest area. At the time of this blog all of the BLM and Forest Service offices have been closed due to Coronavirus so you will need to visit the BLM website and National Park and Forest Service websites.  They do a pretty good job of highlighting free disperse camping areas.  If you check back to our blog we try to highlight the various boondocking spots we have visited on our trips, moving forward.  Also, with COVID-19 you will now want to check out these two sites on Park closures, thanks to DYRT for this well-done article and links to every state.

  1. https://thedyrt.com/magazine.local/campground-closures-list-covid-19/
  2. https://www.nps.gov/planyourvist/alerts.htm

Camping

8. Dumping- Dumping and flushing your tanks is not for the faint of heart. Here is a good website to find RV dump spots, several gas stations have them for free if you fill up for gas and in many of the small towns their city parks have dump stations, waste treatment plants and many rest areas also make them available. We found to keep your Van/RV clean it’s nice to purchase a small trash can with attached lid to put your sewer elbow, a 25 ft black tank flush hose, gloves and to purchase this sewer hose and elbow for the Boldt or similar RV without exterior storage. We have hyper-linked our favorites on Amazon by Camco, we are part of the Amazon Associates program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com items we have highlighted in this post.



If you don’t have outside storage, we put this trash can (when we purchased it, it was only $9.99, think prices went up with COVID-19) in our bathroom until we get some outside storage.  (We are still testing out our van and our needs and since we have 1 year free roadside assistance we aren’t rushing to go purchase just yet, but considering these two companies spare tire and storage options for Sprinters- OWL and ALUMINESS seems to get the best reviews on the REVEL Facebook groups).

7. Atlas- You are going to be places where there my be limited cellular service and your navigation system may not take you the most efficient or correct route, it is always good to have an old school paper Atlas. It is cheap peace of mind.  One can also make notes about areas to visit or recon later. This atlas also highlights the national parks, it is one of our favorites-less expensive and has saved us a number of times.  They also list most of the rest areas that sometimes your navigation system may miss.  We have found a number of rest areas also provide free or $10 RV dumping options.

6.Extra Water- We found bringing this 6-gallon plastic water container has been very helpful. Many vans and RVs have a gravity fill option. We have found in many parks, campground and rest areas there will be water spigots but not ones you can attach a hose to.  This way you can fill up the container and easily gravity fill till your tanks are full.  Also, you may be boondocking in areas where there is no water and its nice to have extra capacity so you don’t run out.  Here is one we purchased when we had to do a Walmart run in the middle of no where California.  REI has much nicer one (it has a valve you can open for faster pours) we also have purchased but forgot at home when we left on our trip.

waterstorage

5. Dog Sign– Everyone loves the four-legged furry friend and if they see one when it is hot outside they will think they are coming to the rescue to break one of your windows so our little friend doesn’t cook. It is important to let people know you have ventilation, your AC on, there is food and water and there is no need to break your Van or RV window trying to be a good Samaritan. Here is an example of one I made for Bode.

Dogsign

4. Gloves– If you have a diesel rig, diesel pumps are different at every station. Some fill slow, some fill fast, some spill, some don’t. We found it is helpful to have gloves to fill your tank so you don’t have diesel carcinogens on your hands.  We purchased these at Walmart when filling gas nearby but here is a pair on Amazon that should also work well.  Also, extra advice I used to be a NO NO will never shop at Walmart because of the way they treat their employees but in this new world of Coronavirus their free Walmart grocery service where you can go online order all the items you need and then have it ready for pick up and not have to step inside the store is a great option in our new reality. Keep other shoppers, employees and yourself  safe and healthy! Download the app.

Dogsign

3. DEF– If you have a diesel rig you need to refill your DEF. In many rigs it is about 5 gallons. This stuff is somewhat toxic so you don’t want it inside your Van/RV to spill.  We also learned that many gas stations, Walmart and stores that carry the 1-2.5 gallon DEF it could be on the shelf too long and go bad (we didn’t realize DEF has a shelf life).  We have found many of the large truck stops like PILOT, Flying J’s and Travel Centers have DEF pumps where you can fill directly into your rig at a better price for ‘fresh DEF’ and you don’t have to store it.

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2.Commercial Cardlock Gas Membership We did not know this, but those commercial gas stations you see across the country where you have to have a special card to use the pumps are sometimes open for individuals with diesel RVs/Vans to join. We signed up with Pacific Pride/CFN.  We have found so far the prices are lower than the typical diesel gas station.  When you apply tell them Greg Stempson sent you and we may get a little credit in the future.  They don’t provide an affiliate program but if they see enough people join because of this blog/vlog then they are considering creating one in the future that you could join too.  So you don’t have to learn the hard way, here are a couple things to keep in mind when you start using the cardlock. There are two sizes of diesel nozzles, you want the smaller for RVs. Second, try it in your tank first sometimes the nozzle can be damaged then go to the cardlock and select your pump and put in your code. You can only put in a code 3 times then you get locked out and you must call the number on the front of your card for them to unlock up, it takes 10 minutes. This is to ensure no one steals your card and tries to get gas. When there isn’t a cardlock available we sometimes use the gas buddy app.  It is fairly accurate and helps to find the next best diesel gas station.

pacific pride

1.Pre-Trip check- And Our number 1 advice for new Vanlifers/Rvers is to do a pre-trip check. If you are on the West Coast Les Schwab Tire Centers offers free Pre-Trip checks where they will check your tire pressure, fill any tires and tighten your lug nuts. The last thing you want is to have your wheel fall off in the middle of no-where.  Les Schwab also offers another great service if you are full-time RVers they will stow your tires if you have studded winter tires and then summer tires and change them out whenever you need.

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We hope these were helpful hints for you.  Here is our video for those you are auditory learners! Next week, we will go back to our adventures and later on we will provide our top 10 gadgets for Vanlifer’s/RVers!  Cheers! For your enjoyment here is a picture of us at Joshua Tree National Park in middle of a snow storm in March, crazy when just a few days earlier it was in the 70s and later Bode enjoying the rocks after the snow subsided!

advice, Travel, VanLife

Long awaited Winnebago Boldt BL Review

BoldtCoverSorry for the delay in getting our review out, but who would have thought libraries, restaurants, coffee shops, Starbucks, and visitors’ centers would all close and consistent, strong WIFI would be so difficult to find. I also had no idea the limited cellular service that would be in Death Valley, Mojave and Joshua Tree National Parks.  So we are posting our blog as I have gotten a few Facebook requests as people are ready to purchase their Boldt, our video will come in a few days when we get more internet access to upload it.

Does BL stand for bad logic?  You know what they say about don’t buy the first model year of a car?  Oh well, when life gives you lemons… make lemonade!  For starters, this review is going to skip items that you can find from other reviewers that provide a general Boldt overview.  I recommend reviews from Ultramobility and the FitRV about the Boldt (we hyperlinked the videos for you to review if interested).  Keep in mind we are not receiving any consideration from Winnebago for this owner review, which should be self-evident once you see it.

First off, the Mercedes chassis.  Looks good, we like the styling.  We get lots of compliments on the Tenorite (cobalt) Blue stealthy color.  We enjoy the high-tech features such as the integration with Apple and Android for navigation and media. So far the auto dim LED headlights work awesome and practically turn nighttime into day.  I love the cruise control that adjusts based on traffic speed in front of you.  Although, the cruise control will become disabled if it gets dirty or covered with ice.  It’s fairly easy to park and change lanes with the vehicle’s sensors and back up camera.

Now for the cons: the Hey Mercedes ‘hands free’ navigation system must be either deaf or based on tech from 20 years ago.  It seems to never ‘hear’ or understand your voice commands.  My hunch is that the cabin may be too noisy when driving??? We still haven’t figured out how to input geo coordinates even after reading the manual and searching Google.  We also asked a Mercedes Dealer in Reno, NV about it and got no help or useful advice so far.  If you have an idea about how to add a destination based on longitude and latitude or make the voice integration work better, please add your suggestion about it in the comments section below.  For now, Rane is my dependable co-pilot, along with our dog Bode.

Its weird, because our 10-year-old SUV provided better voice integration and geo coordinate navigation. For an expensive and high-tech Mercedes this should be fixed!  There is a GEO coordinate button but it only gives you the GEO coordinates of your current location and doesn’t allow you to enter your desired location.  If you have figured this out, please let us know in the comments section below.

The mileage on our 4×4 diesel version is about 14 mpg after about 6,000 miles of fully loaded and variable driving.  By comparison, I hear that the 2-wheel version is averaging around 17 mpg.  The automatic sliding door works great until it doesn’t.  Our 2-month-old van door stopped working as I was trying to exit the van with my dog Bode (he can only easily exit that way) at 5 am when it was 19 degrees.  It opened about 6 inches then gave up.  Some people in the user’s groups have said that this may be a low battery issue, the Mercedes rep I spoke to said it’s a known issue with no work around and that we are only supposed to open the door when the engine is running.  So, there’s got to be some fix for this or customer education on proper uses of the automated sliding door.

One of my other pet peeves is that in order to disengage the instrument panel after turning off the engine you must open and close the driver door- otherwise everything on the chassis AC will stay on- draining the battery until the system reaches low battery mode and automatically shuts itself down.  Please let me know in the comments section if you know of a work around.  Also, because of emission controls you are not supposed to idle the diesel engine, which defeats the effectiveness of using the alternator to charge the Volta system.  Major disappointment!

The house part of the Boldt designed by Winnebago also has some good stuff and frankly some poorly thought through stuff.

Let’s look at the good: We’re cooking and eating nearly every meal in the RV, so in the beginning the dinette came in handy and was useful.  But now that we have lived in it for a while we have moved the table to the back with the beds where it is more roomy and rarely use the dinette anymore.  I’m going to revisit the fold out single bed that’s under the dinette in the bad section, but could be good if you have a younger, smaller, more agile dog that can jump to use as a bed, our dog is 10 and he has used the bed once but finds jumping into it and staying on it very difficult.

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The toilet/shower combo is ok.  Keep in mind I’m just under 6 feet tall and 160 pounds, it would be comedy genius (or horror show) to see the average (large) size American in the bathroom, but it’s working ok for us, it sure reminds you the importance of staying flexible and fit(and by fit I mean skinny).  The beds are okay and can be made from side by side full to a little bigger than Queen size. We’ve done both but prefer the two twin beds now living in it for a while.  You can use normal twin or extra-long twin sheets just fine and don’t need to purchase special RV sheets. I like the smart design of the pull-down racks above the sleeping quarters.  We like the cassette style blinds-especially now that we had the Winnebago factory service center remove them and put a foam gasket around the edges to prevent light bleeding through, added insulation and reduced rattling.

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The kitchenette is serviceable, it would have been nice to have a convection microwave like on the KL.  I would have preferred a kitchen faucet with a removable spray wand and more of a U shape for easier hand and dish washing.

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Battery life- we arrived at Eagle Lake, CA at about 2 pm with full Volta lithium battery capacity.  We dry camped 2 nights with warm sunny days (63 degrees) and cool nights (25 degrees) and cooked all our meals in the van.  We ran the Truma heating system on gas only mode at about 60 (and 68 or so when we woke up) degrees setting during the night.  We ran the tank heaters both nights.  Using all these amenities with 2 people and a dog we were left with about 10% percent Volta state of charge by the second morning.  No alternator was used and my guess is that the solar adds about 5 to 10 percent capacity per day, when sun is available.  Oh, I also tested the Truma water heater on the EL2 Hot setting to test out the outside shower after a bike ride.  That alone burned 5-10 percent of the battery and my shower was luke warm after waiting 10 minutes for it to heat up.  I should have waited 20 minutes but lost patience.

Tank capacities:

  • Fresh water 21
  • Grey sink 10
  • Grey Shower 26
  • Black: 24 gallons
  • Propane: 16 gallons

So far, we are on day four after dumping and filling up our fresh water tanks on Sunday.  The black tank is at 1/3 full, the sink tank is over 2/3 full and + shower tank is still empty.  We still have about half a tank of fresh water but we opportunity filled with the gravity method about 6 gallons at the Lava Beds National Monument campsite.  We do appreciate that the Net Cargo Capacity is nearly 2,000 lbs. allowing you to add a lot of cargo. The side and rear Rolef screens are a convenient and sturdy addition and we’ve already used them this winter/spring.

So, the limiting factor for us seems to be the kitchen sink tank and then fresh water.  Winnebago are you listening… We need a bigger fresh and sink tank, sacrifice some of the shower tank if needed or if possible, swap the sink and shower tanks.  Its nice that the KL just has one grey tank that the shower and sink share, making this a non-issue.

Which reminds me, the other trouble that we have had with the van started on about day 3 after picking up the van in Forest City, Iowa from Lichtsinn.  Our sink grey tank macerator pump stopped working, which means you can no longer use your sink?!  Lame!  So, for 2 weeks we washed our hands and dishes inside of our Instapot. Back then we were still asking Lichtsinn for service advice and their only idea was to stop at the nearest authorized service center. As of 3/18/20 all owners with this issue should be notified of this recall issue thanks to our product testing and persistence.

They didn’t mention the trouble shooting tips I later found deep within the owner’s manual.  Anyway, La Mesa RV Tucson was sort of on our way, so we made an appointment and spent half a day waiting around for them to decide that the pump was bad (which ended up being an incorrect diagnosis).  They didn’t have one in stock, so we soldiered on towards our house in Oregon to try and resolve it there.  Then we went to our local shop in Bend, All Seasons RV spent the whole day on the pump issue that turned out to be a bad fuse.  Well, long story long, turns out Winnebago poorly designed the fuse panel and the tank heaters and pump to the grey tank were on the same 20-amp fuse.  This apparently was a design flaw and the fuse was overloaded.  So apparently, it’s thanks to our product testing that the Boldt will now have a service campaign to correct that issue, but it was quite a headache for us and ended with a week’s worth of fixes at the factory service center.

We find the black tank size is fine, we have gone five days without needing to dump the tank.  We find ourselves needing to dump more often because of the sink grey tank being full and the black tank is still at ½ or 1/3.  One thing is Winnebago puts in a very simple sewer house that you must hold that doesn’t lock or have an elbow.  We found one on Amazon having a clear elbow really helps in knowing when you are done and not having to hold it in place and step in the sewer dump area.  Here is the link to them.
We were first time RVers, so we had no idea how best to dump the tanks and are now thankful for our improved setup that can be done with one person instead of two, but we find a team effort makes this process much easier and cleaner for all parties.

The Truma heat system is great, but the control knob not wasn’t installed correctly.  It is a tiny screw and if the installer drops it, Truma says many times they just take another screw and use it.  If it isn’t the flat head screw then it won’t work properly, which is what happened to us.  Truma sent us a new screw, which was easily swapped out by Greg and we are back in business!

Locking cabs perform well and are much appreciated while driving on rough bumpy roads.

Cons, cabinets veneer is paper thin and not durable, we already have several scratches and they weren’t done by us but when they were installed.  We expect more for the money.  Also, beware the sharp end of the cabinet above the driver side bed, get ready to have your shin banged and scratched several times until you get used to it.  Greg got a nice gash that prevented him from getting to enjoy the hot springs on one of our trips.

The fold out bed under dinette, for us, seems to be a waste of space.  We’re considering removing it and opting for more storage-if possible.  It could fit a child or a maybe a small pet but not suited for much else.  It also slips and slides and needs Velcro to keep the cushions in place. It has some storage but we hope we can get more when eliminating the bed.

We don’t like the fact that you have to turn on a pump to remove the water from the shower drain and it’s got to be cleaned after every shower. Only tiny fingers can do this- poor Rane is designated to this ‘fun’ disgusting job.  Another reason to opt for the KL shower which simply uses a gravity drain.  Also, the BL had no toilet paper holder, we had one (Dometic) installed at the factory service center.  Check the height of the shower wand during your walk through-the installed height for ours was installed below factory specifications and had to be relocated about an 1.5” higher (trust me, every little bit helps).

Bed storage access is poorly thought out.  If my 5-foot-tall 115-pound wife can accidentally rip off the aluminum leg that props up the bed, Winnebago needs to revisit their durability testing.  We’ll be going back to Junction City, OR where Winnebago has a factory service center to get this redesigned and rebuilt with a different, safer, more durable propping system. It would be nice if there was a small indent that the propping leg could sit in then there would be less stress on the joint.

bendroom

The Nova Kool Fridge- the cooling works and it has a decent amount of space for 2 people, except for the door fell off day three after we picked up the van.  We called the manufacturer and they sent us new door hinges.  It’s been 2 months and it seems that the hinges are going to be a constant source of failure and poor design.  The bolt that holds the door on only is designed with a 1/16 of an inch of thread. I’ve had to fix it already on our current trip and we are only on day four. Weak!

It would have been nice to have one Master control panel instead of 6 different gauges and systems.  Multiplex wiring and touchpad controls would eliminate the need for so many controllers and are commonly found on vans at much lower price points like the Coachmen Beyond and Pleasureway Ascent.

As you have probably read in your research, Winnebago isn’t known for their quality control or warranty protection.  Unfortunately, our rig was finished on Friday the 13th, so the team must have been anxious to leave the factory or to move on to other production.  Not only did we have the issues above, our counter wasn’t installed properly and there was a large gap against the wall and trim where a lot of food and debris could fall down and looked very cheaply done.  Also, there was no back splash so it allowed food to fall behind the counter.

We were happy that at the service center added a small back splash for us and it works well now-we really like it!  The Rolef screen at the sliding door was installed improperly and had a significant hole in the upper left corner where bugs could easily fly in.  The bathroom shower had the hot and cold flipped, resulting in 5 super cold showers for us, until we figured it out, not to mention the fact that the shower drain screen was installed backwards. The outlet next to the sink was poorly aligned and didn’t sit flush.  A couple of our drawers weren’t installed properly and had to be reinstalled.

In the end, the VP of Winnebago called us after we posted a review on their Facebook page and made it right and had all our issues fixed (at that time, we now have a few more), taking a full week at the factory service center in Junction City, Oregon. We highly recommend this location if you have issues with your Boldt take it there- the team is professional, knowledgeable and detailed oriented.   He also sent a product engineer from Winnebago, Chris Bienert, out to meet with us (you may recognize Chris from several FitRV YouTube videos) and for us to share the items that need to be fixed for the next models that get built.  We enjoy our BL now, but it should have been this way when we purchased it and hope future customers no longer have all of these production issues.  If we had to do it over again, we probably would have purchased the KL where many of these kinks have been worked out.  Live and learn.  😊

Here is a  link to our video review.  Please hit subscribe on Youtube, we need 45 more subscribers to have a channel!  This week, we will have our Top 10 to do’s for new RVers for their road trips!

Don’t get us wrong, we are enjoying our Boldt and vanlife and still recommend the Boldt just maybe the KL instead or maybe the BL by the end of the calendar year when they get all these issues resolved!

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