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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Nevada Highway 93 boondock jewel: Pahranagat Refuge

There's plenty of long and lonely stretches Out West. Traveling north out of Las Vegas on the 2-lane blacktop of US-93, things get pretty scary for an RVer. The voices on our tape dramas begin to loll one into a (dangerous) trance-like state. Oh, it's time to be off the road and resting up. But where?

Just south of the berg of Alamo is a big (by Nevada standards) lake, Pahranagat. The lake is the centerpiece of a National Wildlife Refuge, and serves as a stopping point for migratory birds. It's also a great stopping point for migratory RVers, and happily, the stopover is free. Bring your fishing pole, but leave your generator off, your hosts thinking that gennies make too much noise for man and beast.

Still, the views of the lake are soothing, and on our early August stop, we didn't mind not using the generator as a spanking breeze came up and gave us natural cooling action. Here's a video of the lake taken from our boondocking site:

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Squeezing watts out of your solar panels -- while shady camping

As we're presently traveling in the Pacific Northwest, our boondocking skills are getting a bit of a challenge in an environment so different from the Southwest. Last night when we rolled into bed, we began wondering if we'd maybe need more blankets -- it seemed so cold! But by morning, it seemed like there were too many blankets. What goes on? A little head scratching revealed that when we rolled into bed, the heavy humidity had made the blankets clammy, and by morning, our personal Btu output had driven out the damp, making them much toastier.

The transition to the Northwest also has made some kind-of-weather-related changes for us. The Northwest's famous (infamous?) rain makes for the growth of beautiful trees. And that's great on a hot summer day -- natural shade makers. But if your rig is equipped with solar panels, those shade producing trees also become solar power killers. What can you do to take advantage of the forest without killing off your power?

Much of it is a balancing act. You'll love those shade trees in summer, when happily, you have the most hours of sunlight. Longer days make for more solar watts, and hopefully, a little shadowing on your panels at time can be made up for in longer hours of available light. But remember, just a little shadow across even a portion of a solar panel, dramatically reduces the panel's production rate.

On arriving at your designated woodsy camping area, you'll have to make your best guess as to what site, or location, to call home. Will you get a few hours of direct sun on your rooftop? Will it be enough? If you'll be staying in the spot for days, you may want not to "sink in your roots" too deeply the first day. Maybe leave the tow vehicle hitched up if you're a trailer user, so you can reposition your rig after you've seen a day's cycle of sunlight.

Other boondockers have set up their solar panels so they can actually remove them from the roof, and set them up at ground level on a temporary frame work. That way, they can park their rig in the shade of the woods, and set the panels up in an adjacent sunny spot. Of course, to accomplish this trick, you'll need to size the wire gauge of your connecting cables to handle the distance from panels to rig without a big voltage drop.

We see some of the enjoyment in RVing is the challenge of overcoming obstacles. Squeezing as many watts out of a shady campsite can be one of them.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Equip your RV with wind power -- inexpensively

Wind power: For the boondocker, nothing beats this free source of electrical power. The trouble is, getting started with wind power isn't always inexpensive, there's that up-front investment cost. But hang on, if you're handy with a few tools and can scrounge a bit, you may be able to build yourself a 100-watt wind turbine inexpensively.

The heart-and-soul of this little machine is a recycled treadmill motor; the designers suggest you may be able to scrap one out of a freebie treadmill; we think you'll be likely to find a used one on a nearby Craiglist sale. In any event, the little treadmill motors put out a lot of juice for a small number of revolutions.

The next question we had was: What about blades? The basic "propeller" as some call it, is generally a three blade operation. On our commercial turbine a set of blades sets us back nearly $100. Not so here, the blades are built out of a chunk of PVC drain pipe. Gimme a break! This obviously isn't rocket science, but hey, it works.

Check out the website of the good folks at Vela Creations. They offer a FREE detailed manual on how to build your own Chispito Wind Generator with pretty much common tools and cheap parts.