Yosemite Revisited: More Tips, Less Snark

You may recall that I had less than charitable things to say about our visit to Yosemite last July. The park is spectacular; it’s our timing that was all wrong.

Emily “You Can Embroider That Shit on a Toss Pillow” Rohrer

But with summer travel planning season upon us, I thought it might be a good idea to offer up some information that campers might find a little more helpful than my pissy rant of 2016. So here ya go:

If you’ve got your RV pointed toward California this summer for a swing through Yosemite National Park, be aware of three things:

  1. You’ll never forget the scenery,
  2. Unless you’re a photography genius, you won’t be able to capture all that majesty in pixels, and
  3. It’s gonna be crowded — really, really distressingly and disproportionately crowded, to DisneyWorld-esque levels. 1200 square miles is not big enough for all the people, because every single one of them spent significant time, effort, and money to spend part of their summer vacation there, and they are going to have their Experience of a Lifetime, visiting the same top 5 park attractions as you are.

For information on RV camping at Yosemite, click on Visiting Yosemite With an RV, but be aware that even the folks in charge recommend staying outside the park, and shuttling in using public transportation.

From the NPS web site, “Since parking for RVs and trailers is limited in Yosemite, we strongly encourage you to park your RV outside Yosemite and use YARTS to travel into the park if you’re not staying the night in Yosemite.”

If you do want to try to stay in the park, first make sure your RV will fit, and that you can survive without hookups for the duration of your visit. There aren’t any. However, dump stations with fresh water are available at 3 of the 10 RV-accessible campgrounds, and generator use is allowed, but only at posted hours.

Yosemite campground map
(Source: NPS.gov)

It probably goes without saying that you’ll want to make your reservation as far in advance as possible, or, if you’re feeling lucky and adventurous, you can try for a first-come/first-served spot.

When we visited Yosemite last year, we set up The Toad in a private RV park in Lee Vining, CA, which is about 12 miles east of the westernmost entrance at Tioga Pass, and a nearly 2-hour drive to the main visitor’s center in Yosemite Valley. (Be aware that Tioga Pass/Hwy 120 closes from October-May due to snow, so using Lee Vining as your home base is not always a good option.)

Source: Google Maps

We had to visit in the summer because my husband and our younger son were hiking the John Muir Trail, and that’s something you want to accomplish when there’s little or no snow. And if you’re hiking the whole 211-mile thing, like my husband did, you have to go through Yosemite.

But now that we know what the Yosemite crowds are like in the summertime, we will never do that again. Our schedule is no longer bound by school calendars, and we will use that to our advantage by visiting the more popular national parks at off-peak times in the spring and fall.

How bad was it? Imagine crowds of tourists from all over the planet, hollering to each other in umpteen different languages, trying to enjoy the exact same spot you are, stopping to consult their maps right in your path, posing for selfies in front of everything, dealing with children who have obviously just had it, and/or driving slowly with one arm out the window to shoot video that nobody will ever want to view.

Lower Yosemite Falls, and a very small portion of the day’s tourists

By about 2:00 p.m., I was eyeballing the bear lockers in the parking lot. You’re supposed to put your food items in there, rather than leaving them in your car for bears to tear apart while you’re off exploring. But by mid-afternoon, I was ready to take all the food out, and put half the tourists in.

These are bear lockers. Big enough for tourists, yes?

That said, I found the park to be most enjoyable in the early morning hours. If you can get in and get some sight-seeing and hiking done before what seems to be the Witching Hour of 10:00 a.m., you’ll have a lot more space and breathing room to take in and truly appreciate some of the most eye-popping scenery in the country.

And hey, if you’ve only got one day to spend in the park, try this itinerary from Oh, Ranger!, one of my favorite resources. Be warned: everyone with one day to spend is going to be trying to see the same list of attractions as you are.

There will be crowds.

You will need patience.

Good luck!


Author’s note: Portions of this article appeared previously at OwnLessDoMore, and a version of this post is published at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.

WheRVe we been? Our travels, 1st quarter(-ish) 2017

Here’s a summary of our first quarter travels for 2017, mapped with a little help from Google. RV miles traveled: about 3200.

Source: maps.google.com

Pahrump, NV, Jan. 1-19: We welcomed the new year with our friends, Dan & Lisa of Always On Liberty, met up for some hiking with a pal I hadn’t seen since high school, and then I joined my FriendFest girls in Vegas for our 22nd (almost) annual gathering. No boys allowed, unless they are bringing us drinks with umbrellas in them.

Quartzsite, AZ, Jan. 19-30: More fun with Always On Liberty at the Xscapers convergence, where we successfully and happily survived 12 days of RV living without benefit of hookups, and made our first YouTube appearances in videos produced by Spot the Scotts and RV Love.

Yuma, AZ, Jan. 30 – Feb. 1: A two-night rest on the border, in a casino parking lot. Lots of RV’ers love Yuma. To us? Meh.

Fort Huachuca, AZ, Feb. 1-4: Checked out the wide open spaces of this Army base for a few days en route to San Antonio. Nice little fam camp, great area and cooperative weather for my fitness walks.

Kerrville, TX, Feb. 6-9: We love the peace and quiet of Kerrville-Schreiner Park, and the fact that close friends live there in their RV. They are also handy and helpful: Jay spent many hours working with Tim to install disc brakes on The Toad.

San Antonio, TX, Feb. 9 – March 10: Back to our home base for biannual family visits and medical appointments, plus rodeo and National Margarita Day fun with Always On Liberty (again!). And from there we flew to Mexico for a most relaxing 10-day visit with Tim’s folks in Los Cabos.

Grandview, TX, March 10-25: Not a planned stop, but we were there for two weeks after the BFT’s fuel pump shit the bed on I-35. One entirely new fuel system and a freshly painted RV interior later (because we had that kind of time), we got back on the road to…

Elkhart, IN, March 26 – April 1: Because we were in fact on the way there to have the RV repaired, when the truck died. Irony for the win! Got some welding reinforced on both The Toad and on Mary Jo, our mascot metal chicken. Those guys at Heartland RVs really went the extra mile for us!

Photo credit: Hearland RVs service department

Fort Knox, KY, April 1-2: We needed a place to sit between IN and a scheduled visit in VA, and KY looked good. But there was no cell service and barely useable wifi at the fam camp, so we rolled away after only one night. With both a new truck purchase and our income taxes in the works, we really couldn’t go without connectivity.

You know you’re washing your vehicle on an Army base when…

Shelbyville, KY, April 2-10: Here we sit for a few more days at a humble little municipal park, enjoying the beauty of springtime in the south. Well, except for that day there were hail storms and tornadoes. And except for the past two mornings when we’ve awakened to temps in the 30’s. But hey, the grass is really green!

Coming up next: a week or so in WV before meeting our older son and his girlfriend for a few days of reminiscing in Norfolk, VA, one of our old hometowns. Can’t wait to get my arms around those kids!

More Power! Tim’s bonus battery bonanza, Part III

~ A special, highly technical, data-driven guest series written by Tim ~

Tim the Tool Man’s “More power” grunt is repeated often around here.
(source: Giphy)

Readers of my electrical system articles likely fall into two groups: those in suspense since February, and those scratching their heads trying to remember what the previous two installments were about.

If you’re in the latter group, Part I of the series covered the planning and design, while Part II discussed research, costs and equipment selections. For Part III, roll up your sleeves!

“I hit my head. It is what I do.”

Installation took longer than expected. No surprise. It also caused me to grimace and repeatedly mutter the above statement. Working extended periods in the belly of The Toad involved contortionism and a couple of bandaids, but the results have been worth it.

The oriented strand board (OSB) used in the RV’s front compartment wall complicated installation of the inverter, as the material does not hold screws well compared to plywood. To address this, I built a back panel from plywood covered by thin metal plates to deflect heat generated by the inverter.

Four t-bolts were used to hang the 40 pound inverter (see Figure 1), while screws were driven in from the basement side (thus gripping into the plywood) to hold the combined weight.

Figure 1

Rough Wiring the Service Feed

Two 240V/50A lines were run from near the circuit panel to the front compartment to complete the new service feed. The Electrical Management System (EMS) (Figure 2) was attached to the floor behind the basement wall after connecting the output side to one of the feed lines. Both cable runs were attached to the basement ceiling using strap hangers.

Lesson learned: pick screws just large enough to hold the cables while still short enough to not poke through the floor. Ouch!

Figure 2

Other Puzzle Pieces

Heavy duty (4/0, “four aught”) cabling connects the batteries and smaller components with the inverter. I made custom-length cables, saving money and weight. To determine the correct lengths, I placed the battery cutout switch, the shunt, and the battery fuse where I wanted them on the RV’s front compartment wall, and then built each cable to fit between them.

Newer Heartland RVs have battery cut-out switches to isolate the batteries from the RV’s electrical system for safety and maintenance. Our 2008 Bighorn lacked this feature, so I added a Blue Sea Systems m-Series switch.

Lesson learned: The m-Series is rated for high-amp circuits, but required modification to fit the large cable; the e-Series switch would have been a better choice.

The fuse block (lower left corner of Figure 3’s right panel) is used to protect the system, while the shunt provides the means to measure performance using the Pentametric monitoring system. One wire from each side of the shunt is connected to the input unit. Additional small gauge wires provide power and temperature readings. The battery interconnects provide a series-parallel configuration. I found Spax screws provide better holding power for components mounted on the OSB.

Figure 3

Custom Cables

Making custom-length cables is as easy as measuring, cutting, stripping and crimping, right? Close. The process is simple, although three special tools and a couple of tricks are helpful.

Because of the 4/0s thickness, bends take extra room and cables should be laid out before cutting; high quality welding cable is a better choice than battery-grade cable because it uses numerous flexible small strands instead of fewer larger conduits.

Before cutting (measure twice!) consider how much cable will go into the end of the lug or other terminals being used (see Figure 4).

Figure 4

Lesson learned: I used the saw method of cutting the cable, but then had to use scissors to taper the cable ends to fit into the lugs. Buy cutters suitable for 4/0 cable; they will make the work easier, and keep you from being asked, “What the heck happened to my scissors?”

After cutting,  I used a simple utility knife to strip back the rubber sheath (and then scissored the strands to death). Apply antioxidant to the exposed strands and inside the lug before crimping. I used a regular hammer to strike the crimper (see Figure 5), but a 2 lb mallet makes for easier work.

Figure 5
(source: eBay)

Some Assembly Required

Once the 12V cable runs were completed between the inverter and through the fuse block, shunt, and switch, I connected the two pairs of 240V/50A legs (not live yet) to the inverter. Completing this before installing the battery box gave me more room to work in the front compartment as I worked on my back looking up.

Yes, I hit my head. It is what I do.

The battery box I wanted, which was the one recommended specifically for the quantity and size of batteries I have, would have taken a few days to ship. My goal was to complete the project before we headed to Quartzsite, AZ, for boondocking, so I fashioned one from locally-available options (Full disclosure: I actually fashioned two, the first prototype being an epic failure).

A Durabilt Storage Tote (Figure 6) is large enough to fit the four 6V deep cycle batteries, and has the added benefit of being considerably cheaper than the aforementioned special-purpose box. To keep it sealed and safe (charging flooded batteries releases gasses that must be vented to the outside), I added weather stripping to the top edge of the box, and a vent line to the outside.

Figure 6

Inexpensive straps were fastened to the RV’s steel compartment floor to hold the box firmly in place. Look closely at the picture of the box and you’ll also see a hole, near the bottom, that allows fresh air to be drawn into the box, ensuring proper venting.

Installing the battery box and finalizing the cables up to the inverter was pretty straightforward. Don’t forget to run properly gauged wires from new battery bank to the existing bussbar providing 12V to the RV’s fuse panel.

Lesson learned: Connect these to the output sides of the switch and shunt vice the battery bank terminals to include the draw in system monitoring and safety cut-outs.

Instrumentation lines were run, based on the component instructions, back to the cabinet inside the coach near the existing instrument panel. The cabinet contains all of the monitoring boxes with incorporated displays (Figure 7). Later, I added the Pentametric computer interface module by my desk, using a separate instrumentation line tapped off behind the basement wall.

Figure 7

At this stage it was time to pause and double check all the wiring and installations because the next step involves removing the RV from all shore and 12V power sources, and rewiring the circuit panel (Figure 8) and EMS. ***MAKE SURE YOU HAVE NO ELECTRICAL POWER IN THE RV.***

Figure 8

My wiring from the shore power connection was long enough that I could run it to the EMS after disconnecting from the circuit panel. The wiring I ran from the inverter’s output was then connected to the circuit panel.

Testing

Without any fanfare, after days of work, I reconnected shore power and flipped the switch.

The 120V light in the RV was dimmer than a sleazy bar. I was crushed, and I had no idea what was wrong, but I clearly wasn’t getting adequate voltage. I quickly realized the problem could be with the inverter or the EMS, but I didn’t know how to test either one.

In desperation, I killed shore power, followed the reset procedures for the inverter, and tried again. Presto! To this day, I don’t know why the first test failed, and I have only had one incident requiring an inverter reset since then.

The next day we got underway for Quartzsite, AZ, where we parked alongside friends and fellow RVers for 12 days of boondocking. The system worked great as I continued to make tweaks and learn the intricacies of using an inverter to provide 120V power from batteries.

One lesson involved just how many amps were used in charging the battery bank; I am not able to run the generator in econo-mode until the bulk charging stage is complete.

There were other lessons too, but I’ve maxed my word count, and probably your attention span too. Feel free to comment below or contact us via our Facebook Page if you have any specific questions.

Disclaimer: Electricity and electrical systems can be dangerous to living things and electrical equipment if not handled properly. What I write will convey my own experiences. If you or anyone else should choose to use any of the information in this post, you do so at your own risk. If you’re not comfortable handling electrical circuits or equipment, find someone who is knowledgeable about such things to help you.

(Author’s note:  a version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.)

RV Travels: Where the Wild Things Are

~ a post in honor of World Wildlife Day, March 3 ~

Although we’ve encountered lots of creatures while RV’ing around the country in The Toad, the only Bighorn we’ve seen in the wild is the one we live in. Notoriously shy, those sheep!

Look! A Bighorn in the wild!

Most animals were outside the RV, living unperturbed in the environments where they belong — at least until I showed up and became the Annoying Human Taking A Selfie.

There was one notable exception. I don’t like talking about it, and I’m not sure it even qualifies as wildlife, but it definitely wasn’t a domesticated critter, and it was living inside our RV. I’ve got to work myself up to that one, so I’m saving it for last.

The others, in alphabetical order:

Armadillo – I’ve spent enough time driving in the Lone Star State to know exactly why these armored gray diggers are called Texas Speed Bumps. Yeah. Ewwwww. But I found a live one in Shreveport, LA, during an overnight stay at the Barksdale Air Force Base RV Park, so of course I positioned myself for a discreet selfie. The armadillo did not say no.

April 2016

Bison – This guy was blocking our path to Frary Peak, the highest point on Antelope Island, in Utah’s Great Salt Lake. “Bison encounter” was one of those bucket list items I didn’t even know I had until I experienced it, and I wrote about it here. We’d been warned by multiple signs not to approach or feed the bison, but the signs didn’t say anything about begging them repeatedly to get out of the way, so that’s what we did. I think the poor bugger eventually got tired of listening to us, and trotted down the hill toward the females.

July 2016

July 2016

Burros – Wild burros are a common sight in rural western Nevada, and this group took their own sweet time crossing the road to the Rhyolite Ghost Town near Beatty.

January 2017

Cat & Deer – Yes, together, and I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it myself. There’s a posse of feral cats at Kerrville-Schreiner Park in Texas, and we watched them interact with the deer on several occasions. Most of the time, each regarded the other in some bizarre form of woodland creature détente, but we once witnessed one of the kitties deliberately baiting one of the deer by sneaking up behind it and pouncing. The deer was not amused.

February 2017

Elk – There we were, walking along a paved path on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, when I was able to take advantage of a unique opportunity: sELKfie for the win!

October 2016

Fox – We were driving to a trailhead in Nevada’s Red Rock Canyon with fellow Heartland Owners, Dan & Lisa of Always on Liberty, when we saw this fox trotting across a parking lot. What does the fox say? I can’t tell you. What I said was, “A fox a fox a fox!” It’s very difficult to remain eloquent when faced with such a rarity.

December 2016

Llama – On one of our first trips in The Toad, we went to Blanco State Park in Texas for a weekend escape. I was supposed to be guiding Tim as he backed the rig into our spot, but it took more than one try because — and I am not making this up — I was distracted by a llama. It kept grinning at me, I swear. See?

November 2014

Whale – While visiting family in western Washington, we drove our whale of a rig onto the Port Townsend – Coupeville Ferry to get from one side of Puget Sound to the other, and were rewarded with a visit from a pod of orcas, right off the bow. So majestic!

December 2015

Wild Ponies – The highest point in Virginia is Mount Rogers. To get to it, we hiked through Grayson Highlands State Park, which is home to a herd of wild ponies. I tried for a selfie with one of them too (it’s what I do) — and became a victim of what can best be described as “pony shenanigans.” While I posed with Pony A, Pony B took advantage of my distraction and tried to eat my backpack. Emily = stupid human.

October 2015

 

And now…

The Thing That Ate My Pastry Brush – We had a critter in the RV last fall.

Based on the droppings we found, we were pretty sure that cockroaches were afoot (although it could have been a mouse), but whatever it was, it nibbled. the bristles. off. my silicone. pastry brush. Ack!

Nothing like spending an evening researching various types of vermin poop to make a girl feel sexy. I seriously though I was going to throw up, and contemplated bathing in boiling Purell, but instead set about cleaning and disinfecting every reachable surface in our kitchen.

And then I set out dishes of a vermin-eradicating cocktail composed of equal parts powdered sugar and Borax. Success! Emily = smart human.

October 2016
See the middle finger? Unintentional, but oh so hilarious!

To learn more about the real World Wildlife Day, visit http://wildlifeday.org

(Author’s note:  a version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.)

In the battle of RV Show vs RV Expo, our kid wins!

Sometimes, life has a way of helping us make an easy decision.

While we were parked in San Antonio for our biannual visit last month, there were two popular RV shows going on in Texas, but unlike last year when we were able to attend each one, both the Houston RV Show and the Austin RV Expo were scheduled for the same weekend in 2017.

The former: 200-mile drive, heavy traffic, overnight stay required. Houston? We have a problem.

The latter: 90-mile drive, heavy traffic, day-trip distance. But… our younger son, a second-year University of Texas Longhorn, lives there and as you might expect, he happily allows us to take him out for shopping and dinner. Austin? We have a winner!

For those who might need a different set of parameters before making a decision in time for the February 2018 shows:

The Houston RV Show is big. As in, TEXAS BIG. In fact, according to the event’s web site, this is the largest RV expo in Texas, with 9 dealerships offering more than 600 recreational vehicles, plus RV-industry related vendors and campground representatives, and daily educational seminars.

In 2017, the show ran from Wednesday through Sunday, with admission prices of $12.00 for adults, $5.00 for children ages 6-12, and free for those under age 6. It is held in the NRG Center, which is adjacent to NRG Stadium, home of the NFL’s Houston Texans. I’m telling you: big.

When we attended this RV show in 2016, we ended up spreading our visit out over two days in order to take looks and second looks at everything we wanted to see, and by the end of Day 2, I literally resorted to drastic measures (grabbed another man, then faked death) to get out of there.

By contrast, the Austin RV Expo is petite. There were only 6 dealerships and a single row of RV-industry related vendors in the Austin Convention Center, which stretches over six city blocks in a highly congested downtown area. I was unable to find an estimate on the number of recreational vehicles offered, but this preview of “just some” shows 95.

Now there’s a familiar name.
Just look how clean and shiny it is!

In 2017, the show ran from Thursday through Sunday, with admission prices of $8.00 for adults, $6.00 for seniors and children ages 7-12, and free for those under age 7. In 2016, we spent several hours there, as we were intentionally shopping for a new RV at the time. Since then, we’ve decided to keep and upgrade our 2008 Bighorn, so this year we made it in and out in a record 90 minutes!

Know before you go to Austin

Tip 1: City traffic is notoriously heavy, and the convention center is surrounded by narrow, crowded, one-way streets, half of which always seem to be under construction. If you want to score a surface lot or street parking, arrive early. We ended up getting a late start, arriving after noon, and had no choice but to park in the garage at 2nd and Brazos, two blocks away. Although we made it in and out safely with our 1-ton dually, it was a white-knuckle experience watching the top of our cab just barely clear the concrete ceiling beams, and we will not repeat it.

Source: austinrvexpo.com

Tip 2: Visit the event web site for $2/off general admission coupons, or try what worked for us in 2016. On our way to Austin, we stopped at an RV dealership to take a look inside a few models on the lot. When we mentioned to the salesman that we were heading to the expo next, he handed us a pair of complimentary tickets from a stash in his desk drawer, as thanks for visiting his business!

Tip 3: The convention center concessions are overpriced and unpalatable. Pack a lunch, or leave the building to dine in one of many nearby downtown restaurants. Just remember to get your hand stamped if you plan to return!

Tip 4: That said, there’s a bar. Inside the expo. You can walk around the exhibit hall with beer in hand, if that’s what it takes to get you through.

No lines, no waiting.
I can fix that.

Tip 5: Austin is full of places to have An Experience, whether you’re into food, microbrews, indie book stores, live music, athletic/outdoor endeavors, museums, people watching, shopping, or any number of interests and activities. Open your favorite internet travel resource, search “Austin,” and then take or make time to explore more than just the RV Expo while you’re there. You won’t regret it. After all, friends do let friends get weird in Austin.

Go with it.
Let it happen.

(Author’s note:  a version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.)