Boondocking in Quartzsite Solar Notes

It’s the middle of January 2019, the sun is low on the horizon and we are dry camping about 10 miles north of Quartzsite, AZ on BLM land off Plumosa Rd.  We camped with quite a few others, hooking up with David Botts’ group.   Tuesday, the afternoon we arrived, was pouring down rain and the dips on Highway 95 were running rivers of muddy water.  When we saw that, I  knew we would be in for some fun pulling out into the muddy desert, and suspected the two washes we had to cross would be flowing pretty good.  You always have to wonder how deep they will be when they are full of water.   They weren’t too bad, but the next day I must admit, I had never seen the coach so dirty.   The skies cleared within a couple hours of us getting there and deploying the slides, carpet and chairs. 

The following morning turned out to be a gorgeous day, and amazingly each day afterward was very nice too.   Warm and sunny till we headed back to San Diego. 

On our first full day here, the panels put out a respectable 160 amp hours of power,  2.15KW.  Pretty phenomenal for 640W of panels lying flat on the roof of our RV in mid-January.   But as it turns out, only about 80 amp hours made it back into the batteries, and the other 80 or so amp hours produced were consumed real-time by the loads running in the coach during those 9+ hours of daylight.   We did get the batteries juiced back up to 87% SOC, so that was pretty decent, although not what I was looking for.    So It was time to set up the solar suitcase I built last spring to provide those extra 8 amps every hour the coach consumed during those 9+ hours.  Hopefully that will allow all the power being generated by the roof panels to go into the batteries. 

After building that solar suitcase last spring, I returned the small 15 amp controller and purchased a larger 50 amp model that would handle the load from 640 watts of panels.  Fast forward to now and I did not have a controller to use with those 200 watts of panels.   They run at a different voltage from the roof panels, precluding me from hooking them into that controller, meaning I had to go out and buy one before I could hook them up.   So that afternoon,  Friday, I drove around Quartzsite looking for a 15 amp controller that could handle the 44 volts my suitcase was wired to produce.   Discount Solar had nothing to work with that voltage, and Bill’s Solar had something they said would work for about $300.  I decided to wait till the show that was to start the next morning to search for a solution there. 

We hit the big show tent early Saturday morning, trying to get in and out prior to the crowds.   Parking there can be a real pain, but someone was pulling out of a spot as we were about to pass them, and we pulled right into that spot!  We wandered all around the tent and spotted a booth from which had a  Victron SmartSolar 75/15 controller on their table, and the cost was within a buck of what they cost on Amazon.   I bought that one.  And while I was paying for it, Chris’s girlfriend’s parents greeted us and we snapped this picture!!

Afterward we headed back to the coach to install it.  Turns out I didn’t have enough wire with me to complete the install, so I had to head back in to Quartzsite to a hardware store I had noticed on the way back to the coach that afternoon,  picked up a couple lengths of 10 gauge red-and-black wire.   

That allowed me to complete a temporary setup at around 4pm Saturday afternoon, a couple hours prior to sunset.   I could see that it would really help the situation tomorrow, our last full day prior to heading back to San Diego.   

Saturday night was the potluck dinner, and the band showed up before 7pm and started a few-hour gig.  They were fabulous as they had been last year.  The band is Notes from Neptune,.  They play the clubs in Phoenix. 

Sunday, our last day in the desert, was hazy with high clouds most of the day, lowering the amount of solar irradiation.  Thankfully the suitcase helped by adding another 5-8 amps of power all day long.   One note about using a suitcase is you need to remember to reposition them about every couple hours to point toward the sun as it moves across the sky.  It makes a fairly large difference in watt output each time you move it.  

Now we will need to wait till our dry camping adventure in Tucson during March to test again.  Should be a lot more solar power available by then. 

We saw this little fireplace while we were there.  It’s a wood burner and had a small adjustable blower fan in the orange box on the side to adjust the amount of heat being produced.   It was kind of clever.    This other device was hooked to David’s Komodo Joe cooker.   It was a temperature and WiFi enabled air blower that will keep the temperature you program for cooking in your KJ.  David was using it to smoke some ribs at right around 200 degrees.   Now that’s some slow cooking  🙂  

It’s now the middle of February and I finished the permanent controller installation for the suitcase this week.  




The General Patton Museum

We took a bus about an hour east from the Indio CA rally facility to the Patton Museum. I was surprised it was right off the 10 freeway. Turns out it is on the original spot of Camp Young, one of many camps spread out over thousands of square miles of California, Arizona and Nevada desert. The first thing you saw as you walked in was a huge terrain map of all the camps. Kind of helped give you a perspective of just how large an area they used for training. Turns out the the furthest east encampment was about 20 miles east of where we would be camping next week. And we would be camping over 2 hours drive from here at 75 MPH freeway speeds. That must have been one hell of a drive back then on dirt roads.

Anyway,  the museum was much nicer than I expected.  The really put in a lot of work to make it a nice place.   Lots of tanks to look at and some with cutaways, others with turrets removed and stairs allowing easy from the top.   They even had a Sherman tank and it had a lot of 50 cal holes in it.  No wonder why they were called Ronson’s by the Gerrys.   

The Indio FMCA Rally

We signed up for the FMCA rally at the Riverside County Fairgrounds for early January 2019. We loaded the coach and set out for Indio, CA. After checking in, we were lead to a large lot of dried grass and parked next to many other coaches already there. Kind of surprising they parked motor homes on that grass as newer diesels have an exhaust system that can get extremely hot during regen process and catch that dried grass on fire. Luckily we didn’t see any smoke. 🙂

After deploying the slides, I got out the carpet and started screwing it down where I found my first goats head sticker in my knee. Those things are nasty, very hard burr like things. Turns out they were everywhere.  Poor Dusty, he found lots of them over the course of our stay. The first morning after getting there I was scheduled to take a bus trip to the Patton Museum which is about an hour east of the Rally. I’ll put that into another post.

After getting back from the excursion that afternoon, I poked my head into one of the new coaches lined up for sale near the drop-off spot. I walked thru a new Allegro Bus. It was really beautiful inside; and as I walked into the back bathroom and stepped into the shower to see how much room was in there, I realized I hadn’t hit my head when stepping into the bathroom, which I did on all the prior coaches with rear bathrooms. The floor was level from front to back. How novel. But I was curious how they did that, so I asked the salesperson who was sitting up front. To my surprise, Tiffin had raised the height of the coach to around 13’4″ from 12’7″. And it also appeared to me they lowered the engine a bit. That change allowed them to make the floor level front to back and also added about 5″ to the height of the basement. Impressive. Except when I was thinking back to a couple encounters with very low branches on our travels back east the prior summer, driving this coach would have given me nightmares of poking holes in the roof or tearing off an air conditioner or two.

The next day the seminars started. They were very similar to what I experienced in Coos Bay last summer. Most of the seminars were just sales pitches for something the person was selling in a booth inside the vendor tents. I am seeing a pattern with FMCA rally’s, which I will need to think about prior to setting up another one in the future.

There were two seminars that didn’t follow that pattern. One was on our coach’s 120v electrical systems and the other on Onan Generators. Both of them were excellent and I learned things I hadn’t known previously in each. Well worth coming over to the desert. In one of the prior seminars I had learned that (according to the speaker) if you set your local TV Satellite channels to Los Angeles, they will follow you all over the country without paying extra for their Distant Network Services I tried that in Quartzsite and it worked, but that wasn’t the best test of it as we were only about 250 miles east of downtown LA. The real test will be when we are in Tucson this March. It’s closer to 500 miles from LA. If they work there, then the speaker was probably correct.

While at the rally we met up with Scott and Tami for a few of the seminars and went out for Mexican one evening to the El Mexicali Restaurant. The restaurant was next to the RR tracks, and when the trains went by, it felt like they were inside with you. The food was excellent (my opinion), the place was packed, and about 1/2 way thru dinner a musician with a harp, of all things, came in and played for the crowd. I think the last time I was around someone playing a harp was at the Cat in the Hat show at the Lowes Resort on the Silver Strand when Chris was very young. Personally, a harp is much nicer than the strolling Mariachi’s at other Mexican places. Especially when they stand right next to you and play.

When the rally was over, we drove only about a mile to Indian Waters RV resort for a couple nights prior to driving the couple hours to Quartzsite on Tuesday. We were able to dump the tanks and fill up the fresh water tank before our next week of dry camping off Plumosa Road’s BLM dispersed camp sites.

On a rainy Monday afternoon we got together with Kathy’s cousin Kay and her family for a wonderful lunch in Palm Desert!

First Boondocking experiences after installing Solar on the RV

Let the testing begin!    Our first camping trip after I installed 640 watts of flexible Renogy solar panels and a Victron 100/50 charge controller was at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta campground October 3rd till the 14th.     We had signed up for an Escapee’s HOP (Head Out Program)  late last year when I couldn’t find more than a couple days in a row of available reservations.  Turns out they open the Balloon Fiesta Camping reservations up about a week after the last one ends so I was a couple months late to the party.  Luckily I found the ad for the HOP and they had a few openings.  I reserved a spot right then.

Fast forward ten months and we were camping there with our barely tested new solar panels charging our house batteries.    First thing I noticed was around noon the first full day there, they stopped charging the battery.  I checked the side compartment with the charge controller and I saw that one of the breakers on the battery side of the controller had tripped.  The devices I bought were supposed to be 50 amp breakers,  but from what I could tell, it tripped around 30 amps.  Not a good sign.  I clicked it back on and we started charging again.  

I started researching breakers and determined that I probably should have bought 60 amp breakers for that part of the circuit and better quality ones.   So I started calling local distributors, but none had them in stock, so I gave up for a bit.  

Next day it happened again, the same breaker tripped.  I could see this was going to be a chronic problem unless I replaced it.  Again I started looking online for a replacement and at the same time wondered where I could have it delivered.   After all, I was in a sea of RV’s.  No way for UPS to find us. 

A few  days went by while I called just about every electronic and electrical supply house within 90 miles of Albuquerque.    I also kept googling.  And then unexpectedly about 30 pages of results later, I found an ad for a 60amp breaker at an unlikely place called Sportsman’s Warehouse.   I called their local store, and to my surprise, they had a bunch in stock!   That afternoon I drove over and bought one immediately.   Turns out they were in the fishing section of the store for trolling motors, MinnKota MKR-19 Circuit Breaker 60A.   I replaced the faulty breaker that afternoon.  

Of course, once that was in place, the next day the breaker I had previously installed on the negative side of the circuit tripped.  I had only put that breaker on there as a switch so I could turn off both the negative and positive sides of the circuit.  Humbug!  So I went back to the store and bought a second one and installed that on the negative side of the circuit.   The issue with these particular breakers for me was no button to trip them manually, which is one of the main reasons I bought the problematic ones.  They had a button to press to trip them, so in effect they were also a switch.   I had seen other solar install pictures online where those same cheap breakers were used for solar hookups, so I figured they would work.   Geez,  was that a wrong assumption.

By now we are just a couple days from the end of the fiesta, so I decided to shop for one online that had the manual trip lever to install prior to us leaving for our next trip.   I eventually pulled the trigger on the Bussmann CB185-60 breaker and had it shipped to the house once we arrived back home.   I will be leaving the MinnKota on the other side of the circuit till I can find a suitable surface mount switch.

Now that I was no longer tripping breakers, I could really see what the panels were capable of.   One of the days I happened to look at the console and see over 540 watts of power being generated and almost 40 amps going to the batteries.  That was pretty amazing because the panels are flat mounted on the RV roof and the sun was getting low in the sky as it’s the middle of October.    Solar panels should be angled toward the sun for optimum production, but I decided early on in my research that I wasn’t climbing up on the roof to tilt them up and put them down each time we moved.   Once I committed to flexible panels that was fairly moot anyway.

While we were there, I experimented using the generator in the morning to charge the batteries up to around 80% SOC (state of charge), which is around the point the onboard charger drops out of bulk charging mode.  At that point I shut the generator down to let the solar panels attempt to top the batteries off during the rest of the sunny day.  Only using the generator while the charger is in bulk mode should be the most efficient use of the diesel generator.   Once the charging switches from bulk into the absorb charging mode, the charge amperage drops fairly quickly.  Even when the charger is only pushing 10 amps into the batteries, the generator seems to be under the same load as when it’s charging them at 125 amps in bulk.

I am now starting to more fully understand the difficulty of fully charging our batteries via solar . Adding more panels will help, but in reality I probably can’t fit enough panels on the roof of my RV to get it done in the middle of winter. 

The chemistry of batteries prevent them accepting the full amperage of the panels once they get above 80% charged state where the controller shifts into absorption mode.   More panels will get you to 80% quicker, but then the battery chemistry kicks in and effectively starts pushing back and the controller starts dropping the amperage going to them.  So if you calculated you could push 40 amps for 4-6 hours of the day (240 AH) and less AH before and after those hours, then in theory I figured we can push all those AH into the batteries during those six hours,  but that’s not reality.  As soon as those batteries hit around 80% SOC, the amount of charge accepted quickly drops.  So if your batteries are depleted below 80% SOC,  say at 60% SOC, you can really push in those amps for a while; but when they hit that 80% threshold, the amps  drop, and they drop in an almost linear line down to just a few amps and then hit float charging.

My experiment running the generator in the morning was my charge controller switched from bulk charging to float charging way too quickly, almost no time was spent in the absorb phase of charging from the panels, which should be the bread and butter of solar.   I started to search for an answer to that, and what I found out so far was the amount of time the charge controller stays in absorb is determined by the voltage the charge controller sees when it wakes up due to first sunlight in the morning.  The higher the voltage it sees when it wakes up, the shorter the time it stays in the absorb phase; and the generator made the controller see much higher voltage when it woke up, so the absorption time was cut to almost nothing.  

But that was learned a bit too late in the game, so this will continue when we dry camp in Quartzsite the middle of January.


Petroglyph National Monument

During our stay we ventured out to find the Petroglyph’s which were almost in Albuquerque itself.   Its spread out over a large area so we hit the visitor center first and checked out the map.  After looking at all the sites in the area we chose the one they allowed dogs on the trails which was quite a few miles north of the visitor center.  We drove  thru lots of neighborhoods getting there.    When we finally got there we were kind of surprised to see the trailhead was in a housing development and right behind a small store.   We parked and headed out on the trail.  Luckily for us it was nice and cool for the uphill hike.   There was no shade anywhere in sight,  I bet its blazing here in the summer months.   I was amazed how many drawings were on the rocks, there were hundreds,  probably thousands of them.   It made me wonder if the parents of the people doing this to the rocks were unhappy akin to the parents of today’s taggers?

This was a nice walk thru the desert just west of downtown Albuquerque.   We finished the loop and then headed back to the car.


Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

This post has been a long time coming..   We arrived at the Balloon Fiesta a few days early to join up with the Escapees’ group,  a first time with that club.   Our area was at the extreme south end of the Balloon Fiesta RV camping lot.   Really it’s just a big dirt lot that we were told in prior era was the Albuquerque dump.   There were a lot of plastic pipes strategically placed sticking up a few inches for someone to open and monitor what was going on below.   When we received the park rules prior to arriving, I was wondering about the rule where it was a requirement to keep your generator or BBQ two feet off the ground.   Now, with the understanding of potential methane seepage from the ground, it all made sense.

You couldn’t believe how close everyone was parked to each other!   Our spots were 20′ wide, but they seemed much smaller.   We lucked out as the coach to our right (passenger side) decided to park way over to the right of their space, giving us about 4 extra feet of space on that side.   I had folded our outdoor carpet so we didn’t go past our space’s sideline; but when the next motorhome pulled in a few days later, I went back and stretched our carpet back out to its full width and still had a couple more feet of room for the patio.

We also got to get some real world testing of the new solar panels,  installed just prior to heading to this event.   They worked better than expected except for a lot of nuisance tripping of the 50 amp breakers I had installed.   Those breakers just weren’t up to the task and kept tripping at around 30 amps of power going into the batteries.  I had a difficult time finding new flush mount circuit breakers while here in ABQ, but eventually found some in stock at an unlikely place called Sportsman’s Warehouse.   Turns out, what I needed was also used for trolling motors and were found in the fishing department of the store.   I installed them and the tripping issue disappeared.  The only problem I found with the new breakers was I could not manually trip them.  So I ordered a new  Bussmann CB185-60 breaker from Amazon when we got home.  These have a way to manually trip them when I want to disconnect the panels from the batteries.

Anyway, back to the Balloon Fiesta.    Our group had a tent where they served breakfast and dinner most of the days we were there.   As the balloons go up starting at dawn, the breakfast serving began at 5am.   Very early for a retired guy to be awake.   But we did make it for about 1/2 the morning breakfasts,  or at least I did.  🙂

. The opening day of the fiesta we took the shuttle bus over to the field.  Thankfully the buses have a road of their own to travel back and forth from the campground to the launch field.  If they didn’t, it might have taken hours to get there.  The traffic was astonishing for that time of the morning,  everyone trying to drive there in their cars at the same time.

We walked onto the field.  It was utter chaos, there were so many people packed around hundreds of balloons trying to inflate and many others already inflated.  I have never seen anything like it.   It was like some of the old music festivals I attended back in the day, there would be 1/2 a million folks on a large field.   This felt like that plus the hundreds of balloons in different states of getting ready to fly.

Then the balloons started to take off in two’s and three’s and then many more were going up at the same time.  It’s an awesome sight to see from below.   All around us were flight “zebras” blowing loud whistles letting the balloon pilots know when it’s safe to take off as the pilots cannot see anything above them due to the very large bag of hot air above them.  I guess it could be disastrous if they rose quickly into another balloon.

We took so many pictures and videos, I filled up my phone the first morning; so when we got back, I pulled them all off including all the other photos and videos to make room for lots more to be taken during the next 10 days.

If only the pictures did justice to the experience.   There were just so many balloons taking off, it was truly a spectacular sight.   I especially liked the special shapes.  I think my favorite were the three honey bees that appeared to be holding hands during their inflation.   They were a mom, dad and baby bee.  The pilots were so skillful they were able to rotate the mom and dad to make them kiss just prior to liftoff.

The Wells Fargo Stagecoach balloon was fantastic, but we never saw it fly.  Seems they just inflate it, but as far as I know it never took off any of the days.   Yoda and Darth Vader were very cool and appeared together often.  There was a large stork and a giant statue from the mountains above Rio.   My guess is there were close to 100 special shape balloons.   The big green boot was probably the oddest of the bunch.

A few of the mornings and evenings there was a lot of wind out here in the desert and the balloons didn’t fly in those conditions.  Luckily the festival has an app for your phone that lets you know what is happening so you don’t traipse over to the field at O’Dark Thirty on a morning that proves to be too windy to fly.   There were lots of other things going on next to the field after the flights, one being a chainsaw carving tournament.   After the Fiesta was over and while we were camped at the Cummins dealer, I met one of the chainsaw carvers as their coach was having turbocharger issues.

Most of the days we chose to bring our chairs over to the edge of the field next to the Escapees tent where lots of balloons end up landing when the wind was just right.    From there you can get a better perspective of the amount of balloons flying at the same time.   They told us there were 555 balloons going up.   I didn’t count them, but it looked like there were more than that.

One of the days we were over there, a balloon came back down onto the takeoff field at a very fast clip.   The zebras were frantically blowing their whistles and running around to clear out all the people from the emergency landing area before it could make its hard landing on someone’s head.   It came down with a loud thud and I didn’t see anyone get hit.  Had someone been under there, I bet there would have been a lot of broken bones to deal with.   As it was, I was wondering how the folks on board that gondola fared.   We didn’t stick around to see if any ambulances arrived, but I didn’t hear any sirens as we continued to wander around the field.

We dry camped there for 12 days, our longest boondocking so far.  When we arrived at the campground, it was very warm in the afternoons; but within a few days, the weather became quite brisk early in the mornings.  A few days it didn’t get much over 50 degrees the whole day; and a couple of the days it rained, and we got to experience some thunder and lightning.   As you know if you’ve read our past blog entries, that’s not something we get to experience much living in San Diego!

Each night after the balloon Glows there was a sky diving team dropped above the field that somehow shot off fireworks as they descended.  I had seen smoke used at other events but never fireworks.   I’m not quite sure how they were doing that, but I would imagine that it could easily go very wrong for them.  After they landed on the field, a few minutes later there were 15-20 minutes of fireworks shot off from the launch field.  We brought our chairs over to the club tent and watched them with the 30 or so Escapees members.

The last day of the event was too windy for the balloons to launch and almost too cold for a couple of San Diegans!   Everyone in the campground, about a thousand RV’s, were supposed to vacate before 11am unless you made prior arrangements to stay one more night there.   I was thinking about doing that till the weather forecast predicted “snow” for late Sunday and Monday.     I had called a bunch of local campgrounds to find a place to stay, but no one had a spot available.  Seems like quite a few of the RV’s leaving the balloon fiesta campground on Sunday morning weren’t traveling very far.

We got out of the campground around 10am and were pleasantly surprised there weren’t any issues on the roadways or even much of a line to get thru the traffic signal at the entrance.   Within a few minutes we were pulling into the local Cummins dealer’s parking lot about 6 miles south of the fiesta grounds and there wasn’t another coach in sight.  I had been wondering if it would be packed due to all the campgrounds in the area being full.   I will need to keep these types of places in mind when needing electric hookups during future travels.  We already posted  about our troubles with the coach during this trip.

Next post should be about our visit to the Petroglyph National Monument.






Breaking Bad props..

While we were camped at the local Albuquerque Cummins dealer awaiting our new radiator to come in we ran across the breaking bad motorhome in Old Town.

We snapped a few pics, I especially liked the bullet holes in the door covered over with duct tape.  Afterward we decided to go find the car wash from the show.   I was curious to see if the cash was still there.

I couldn’t believe how large that car wash was.  It was massive!  I’m pretty sure you could fit a Saturn 5 rocket in there with room for a space shuttle or two.

I looked all around while we were in Albuquerque but never saw Bryan Cranston or even Mike in his old Chrysler.

Issues encountered while going to the Balloon Fiesta

During our Tuesday afternoon drive from Silver City, NM,  we pulled over in a rest area near Socorro, NM, about an hour south of Albuquerque.   I did my usual walk-around prior to getting back on the road.   When checking the toad connections, I noticed some red fluid on the ground under the coach.   I was hoping it was from a prior vehicle parked in the spot; but when I looked underneath, I saw fluid dripping down.  I thought it was transmission fluid as it was red; but when I got a little between my fingers, I realized it wasn’t oily.  Ah Ha.. it was coolant.

I looked into the engine compartment and could not see where it was coming from.   I was hoping it was a hose leaking.    I found a bottle of extra coolant I travel with and poured it into the tank so it was high enough to see in the site-glass again.   Then I headed the hour north with my eye on the engine temp gauge while I called the ABQ Freightliner dealer who proceeded to tell me it would be days before they could get me in to look at it.

My second call was to the ABQ Cummins shop whom I was able to get them to say bring it right in.  I drove there, and Charley, the guy I had talked to, called over the service supervisor, Josh to check it out.  He immediately was able to see where it was coming from and got out his camera and snapped a picture.

We could see it was a hole in the radiator, not a hose as I had hoped.  They wrote up an estimate of $4,700 to replace it.  Holy Cow!   I called my extended warranty company who told me they needed to talk with the mechanic, not me.  Of course he was no longer in sight and I had to hang up as they wouldn’t hold.

Once they came back, I gave Charley the number to call and the account numbers info.   He called them and they wanted a quote for a re-core, not the new radiator I had specified.  (My radiator is likely 12 years old like my coach, so a new one was in order to make it less likely to happen again from metal fatigue)

Charley called them back, and the insurance company argued that a re-core would cost $500 not the $1,800 he was quoting.  (The new one was $2,000)  The claims adjuster appeared to be living in 1972 pricing land.   We left as the insurance company, which is in Florida, closed so Charley was going to rewrite it up with a re-core and submit it the next day.

We drove off to the RV parking at the Balloon Fiesta to wait knowing the part was about a week lead time.   Fast forward to the following Monday,  I called Charley and he said he hadn’t heard back from the Ins Co.  I called them and they said they were still waiting for the quote with the re-core.    It appears Charley never called them back.  I should have figured he might not and should have called him that next day to remind him.  So we were going to pay the price.

I called him back, and he then called and submitted the new quote.   Now we had lost about a week.  Charley called me back to tell me they were going to send an adjuster to look at the problem and they would write up the claim after they got his report.   The adjuster, an independent guy in the area, had 48 hours to be there.   So the next morning we packed up and moved the coach to the Cummins parking lot to camp for a couple of days waiting for him.   While there, I used their dump station and also filled the water tank since we had been dry camping for a week already.   That was good as the Balloon Fiesta had contracted with a company to bring trucks around to the coaches and pump them out for $30 each time and another truck for water refills for another $30.   So by taking advantage of the Cummins stay, we avoided paying that $60.

Around 2 that afternoon a tech knocked on the door and said the adjuster was there.  (Sweet!)

Mike was his name and I told him we needed to find Josh, the service mgr, who had diagnosed the issue and had pics.   He asked the tech to find Josh and send him out.   Josh came out a few moments later and he started discussing  the problem he had seen and showed Mike the pics.   Mike agreed there was a radiator leak, but he needed to know why the radiator was leaking,  was it corrosion or a rock.   That was an interesting conversation,  as Mike proclaimed he was an “expert” and I realized this was probably a hopeless issue for me.

After that I provided a couple rubber mats for him to lie on and he snapped a few pics with a small camera.   He was quite a character and kept repeating he needed to know why it was leaking for the insurance company.   It sounded like he expected the Cummins shop to remove the radiator first so he could inspect it.   That, to me, was a worst-case scenario as we would be “motorhomeless” for a long time and potentially miss the last week of the Balloon Fiesta.   Once the radiator was removed for inspection, the coach was an immovable object, stuck in the repair bay.   And we knew that getting the new radiator was a week afterward.

Mike left saying Charley should hear from the Insurance company before  10 the next morning.   We decided to pack up and go back to the Balloon RV parking lot and wait for the insurance company response.   At least our tanks were empty and the water tank was full again.

The following morning around 11 am I got the call from Charley.   He said the insurance company had authorized the repair for the re-core but would not pay the miscellaneous charges.   So they would pay a little less than $4,400, I authorized Charley to buy the new radiator, which was only $200 more than the re-core, and they ordered it.   I texted a buddy who has had a bit of coach issues recently and I said I should play the lottery after hearing they will pay.  He texted back that I had “already won”.

I called back the next day to see if it was ordered, and he told me it was now 7-10 business days away.  Previously it was 5 business days.   So that put our Halloween party bus night in jeopardy and also my academy training class for volunteering with the SDPD starting on the 29th.

Once the Balloon Fiesta was finished on Sunday morning, we packed up and drove back to the Cummins parking lot to camp there.   They provide 50 amp electric service to 4 spots in their parking lot.   It’s like luxury after two weeks of dry camping using the genny and our new solar panels to recharge the batteries.  (That will be another post about using the solar while dry camping there)

I had called around and there was no availability for camping near ABQ the day the event closed.    Around 800-1,000 RVs were leaving that Sunday morning.   We could have stayed one more day if we wanted to by paying a small fee, but the weather forecast was for snow on Monday.   I didn’t think it would be a great idea to be on the road if it really snowed that morning, so we packed up and headed to the Cummins shop hoping there was a space still available.

When we got there all the RV parking spaces were empty.  Nice!!

We parked it , deployed the slides and hooked up to the 50 amp pedestal, keeping my fingers crossed they didn’t power them down on the weekend.   I plugged it in, flipped the breaker and there were lights on my SurgeGuard.  Sweet!

That night we realized it wasn’t a great area.  Lots of homeless folks in the distance around us.     The next morning, Monday, I asked if there was a tracking number for the shipment.   They didn’t have one but gave me the number of the Freightliner dealer they ordered it thru.   I called them and was fortunately transferred to the receiving dock.  The guy there was able to find the tracking info and said it would be there tomorrow (Tuesday 16th)  Our repair was scheduled for Monday the 22nd, and I hoped to be able to push it up a couple days since the part would be here so soon,  to be able to make it home for the Halloween party; but as the week progressed, we could see how jammed they were.   Lots of RV’s were going in and out of the place.  We met one couple with a 2008 American Tradition coach that had just had their second engine installed at a cost of $33,000.  Yikes.. I asked if they had an extended warranty to cover that but he said no.   Double Yikes!!

We had been having intermittent air leveling issues since our Northwest trip and it started up again on the cold morning at the fiesta campground.   That’s when I realized the problem only occurred when it was below 60 or so degrees.   The cold morning leaving San Francisco,  a cold morning leaving Klamath Falls, then in Coos Bay, and Salem Oregon.  After that it hadn’t occurred till now.   After we left the west side of the Cascades and headed toward the desert of eastern Washington, we hadn’t experienced it again.

Fast forward to this week,  the wind really started to blow hard and a tree behind us started scraping on the roof, so I wanted to move the coach up a foot to prevent that, and the coach wouldn’t level up again and I could hear a lot of air leaking near the rear wheels.

I went inside the Cummins service and asked if they had time to look at it.  That was a negative, so I called the Freightliner dealer and this time they said to bring it right over, which we did.  I finally got it aired up to about 100 lbs, which aired up the bags enough to allow driving it there.  I could still hear the air escaping, but the on-board compressor was just able to keep up enough air pressure to let us drive over there.

After a bit they brought the coach in and were able to find a bad elbow joint, a $2 part was leaking big time.  It seems that when it was warm, the metal must have expanded just enough to lessen the leak so we didn’t notice it.   But it was really cold when we got it there, so they found it almost immediately.   Once that was fixed, the tech stayed underneath and sprayed soapy water on every other fitting he could reach to checking for other leaks.   None were found, and we drove back to the Cummins shop to wait..

It’s Saturday in Albuquerque and our repair work will be starting on Monday at 7 am.   We are going to rent a hotel  Monday night, hoping they will be finished by Tuesday evening so we can stay in the coach Tuesday night and get a really early start home on Wednesday morning.  Or maybe leave late on Tuesday to go up a steep grade to give the work a good field testing.   The camping spots started to fill up in earnest Saturday afternoon and by Sunday there were 5 coach’s plugged into the 4 pedestals.

Monday morning around 7:30 Daniel the mechanic who was assigned to R&R the radiator drove our coach to the furthest bay in the building and backed it in.   We stuck around in case there were any questions, and I asked Josh to let me know when the radiator was out so I could see in there.

About 8:30 the next morning I got the call that the radiator was out and I could come over to look at it.  I was glad I did as I had asked them to replace all the hoses while the radiator was out and they had said all the hoses were straight so nothing needed to be ordered.   When I popped my head under the coach that was high in the air I noticed a molded hose right away and pointed it out to Josh.   He found one other so we were going to need to order them.   Of course there were none in stock nearby so we had to airfreight them and they wouldn’t be there till sometime on Wednesday.  Oh well another night in the hotel would be required.

Wednesday afternoon we got the word that the hoses had arrived and they should have it all finished by 4pm.    Daniel pulled the coach out about then and we got all the paperwork done and headed out on the road thinking we could get a couple hundred miles south before sundown.  But within an hour I realized the sun was going down before we got the 80 miles to Socorro NM.   We tried calling a couple of places but all we got were busy signals.    We drove to one of the places as it was just about dark and the place was sparsely occupied.   I checked in and pulled into a spot with the car hanging out into the interior roadway as that pull thru was meant for something 20 feet long.   We setup for the night and were asleep by 9pm.   The next morning we rose early and were on the road by 8am (7am pacific)   I was planning on getting to Tucson for the night but when we drove thru there at 2pm I decided to try to make Yuma for the night.  We arrived at the campground Kathy called at 5pm checked in and setup for the night.  (Thursday)

The next morning we got on the road at 9am and were parked in front of the house at noon.  Success!    It was warm in San Diego, of course, we had to start unpacking as the coach heated up.





The Gila Cliff Dwellings

On the early morning drive from Silver City to the National Monument, Kathy remarked that this might be a disappointment after the other spectacular cliff dwellings we visited last year.    It took an hour and a half to drive the 44 miles to the park.  Most of the roads were 25 mph due to how narrow and windy with lots of sheer drop-offs.

We visited the visitor center to get a map and also to upgrade my metal water bottle to a nice plastic one with the Gila Logo.   It was much lighter than the metal one I had brought.    Afterward we drove to the trail-head and talked with the ranger about what to expect on the trail.   The first thing you cross is a fairly large metal bridge over the Gila River.    The trail is a loop, and the ranger said to take the first left to go up the valley.

We started out early in the morning as it was predicted to be in the high 80’s that day.   We were pleasantly surprised that 2/3rds of the hike up was in the shade and a perfect temp for a hike up a hill.   Then we came to the switchbacks and of course they were in full sun.   Lots of steps carved into the rocks, probably only about 180′ vertical, but in the sun it felt a lot longer.   We took advantage of a couple of strategically placed benches in the shade going up the rock face.

Once we got to the first opening, there was a small staircase to get up inside.  Obviously it wasn’t there when these were occupied.  The site was spectacular and really a lot more fun as we got to climb in and around the whole place.  The other sites we visited  last year were highly regulated where you could not get too close to the outside, let alone go in them.     So I was not “disappointed” at all.

The brickwork wasn’t as nice as the Cliff Palace, but being able to touch it was pretty cool.


The inside of the dwelling felt like it was air conditioned, a perfect place to live in the summer months.   The roof of the biggest chamber was black with soot making me wonder what it might have been like to breathe in there when fires were going.   I bet no one with asthma lived in there.

We wandered all around and went into a few of the rooms that were easy to get in.  One of them had a mural painted and some carving into the adobe bricks.   The mural was difficult to see, but if you got the right angle to the sunshine, you could just make it out.   Probably the first American wallpaper!

After we thoroughly explored the place, we climbed down the ladder to finish the loop trail back to the trail head.   This part of the trail was completely in the sun and by this time it was around noon, so it was toasty.  Luckily it was all downhill, except it was much steeper (shorter distance back)  and was stairs most of the way.   Pretty slippery going.   By the time we got all the way down to the bridge, my knee was starting to bark at me.  (Almost a year healed from spraining the MCL).

On the way back we took another route that we had passed the junction maybe 10 miles prior to the park.   It looked like a much better road but was about 10 miles longer to get back.    It was a good choice although Kathy wasn’t so sure.   There were some gorgeous homesteads/ranches along that way.  We hadn’t seen anything like them on the way up.

Just prior to the turnoff to the different road back, I pulled over and let some cars pass us, one beautiful convertible Porsche and a gaggle of BMW motorcycles behind the cars.

On the road back we passed a huge open pit mine with its overlook fenced off.   Not sure what was up with that.   It also had an out-of-place overpass built across the highway.  Apparently the large mining trucks needed to get to the other side was my best guess.

Just prior to the turn off to the RV park, I saw the same BMW motorcycles heading the opposite direction.  So the extra 10 miles on the better road we went on the way back  had about the same travel time!



Driving to Silver City NM

We got a late start as we didn’t want to spend too much time in the desert heat.   We drove all the way to Dateland, AZ, which is halfway between Yuma and Gila Bend.    The campground was far enough off the freeway that you could only see the vehicles, but not hear them.   You could barely hear the trains go by as they were about 100 feet closer than the highway.   Even though there was a grade crossing maybe 1/3rd of the mile away, we never heard a train horn, just the low rumbling from the distant trains.

It was HOT in Dateland, 104 in the shade.  We plugged into that 50 amp circuit immediately to get those AC’s online!    We were the only people in the campground that night probably as the end of September is still summer here.  Once the sun went down, it was only 102 degrees!  Balmy.   But there was a very nice sunset as you can see by the panorama picture below.

The next morning we decided we didn’t want to spend another night in the desert, so instead of stopping a couple hundred miles down the I-10, we went for the 380 mile drive to Silver City instead.    Glad we did!  It was only about 80 when we got there.  About 25 degrees cooler than the place we were going to stop.

And we had a great sunrise this morning over the Rose Valley RV Ranch in Silver City