Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Boondocking timber company lands

R&T DeMaris
As more and more government held land goes "camp for cash," it's no wonder that RVers are looking for new areas to camp and commune with nature. Acreage that might be overlooked for RVing is that held by U.S. timber companies.

The country's largest private landholder is Plum Creek Timber. The company holds 6.8 million acres across the north and southeast areas of the country. Not too far behind in land management, the Weyerhaeuser Company "owns or controls" an additional six million acres. That's a lot of land with potential for recreational use. In some cases its a bonus for boondockers. Much of the recreational use of these lands is managed by the companies themselves; in other cases local governments handle recreation while the companies tend to the timber.

Many timber companies recognize the "recreational aspects" of their holdings and make their lands available for public use. With that hospitality comes responsibility to those of us who use the land. Most things are pretty straight-forward and simple:

  • Leave gates as you find them--or as posted, be it open or closed.
  • Don't leave litter or dump your tanks.
  • Be careful with campfires where permitted, and where they aren't DON'T have one.
  • Follow any rules or requests the company makes.

What about costs? Some timber outfits welcome recreationists with open arms, and no fees. Others are "discovering" that charging a fee can help them out--the policies vary by company. A few years back, Potlach Corporation decided to begin charging fees in some of its Idaho forest holdings--to the tune of nearly $100 a year. Depending on your use, that may actually be a bargain.

How do you find out about boondocking opportunities? We'll list a few of the big company's web sites in a second, otherwise, you'll need to do a little detective work on your own. You could check out local phone books under "Timber" for possible leads. Many outfits post signs on their holdings (which may or may not include phone numbers) which at least give you an idea of who owns the property.

On to the list:

Weyerhaeuser: This company owns land in both the South, Midwest, and Northwest. While lands in the south are typically "leased" for recreation, in the northwest much land is open to the public. The company provides a web site with state-by-state clickable list, which leads to maps and details.

Plum Creek Timber: A BIG concern as we mentioned. Their website provides a rather generalized discussion of recreation in its various state landholdings here. However, in the left sidebar you'll find a link to recreation contact folks where hopefully, more information specific to your needs can be tracked down. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The ABCs of deep cycle battery labels

My father used to muse, "Love doesn't make the world go round, numbers make the world go round." Well, on a long RV trip, a little lovin' ain't bad, but numbers, sad to say, make much of the RV world go round. And especially is this so when it comes to RV batteries. How long you can keep your electrons flowing is a critical factor in RV trips away from utility hookups.

We're often faced with RVers (and others who should know better) spouting off about CCA numbers related to battery capacity. CCA numbers are for "Cold Cranking Amps," and are a measure of the muscle the battery has available for turning over an engine. Repeat after us: "There is no solid relationship between CCA and battery capacity."

We know we'll hear of chorus of, "Ah, you're full of it!" Full of beans, maybe, after the hot dog roast last night. But let's hold the horse for a minute and talk about the REAL figure that explains a battery's ability to do the work most RVer's need – providing juice for lights, water pumps, cell phones, etc. That number is expressed as of amp-hours capacity. Some battery manufacturers use a different term, the "20 hour rating." Simply stated, amp-hour capacity tells you how many amps can be taken from the battery over a 20 hour period before it is completely discharged. For example, a 110 amp-hour rating means you could pull 5.5 amps per hour continuously for 20 hours before the battery would be depleted. How'd we do that? Divide the amp-hour rating (110) by 20 (hours) and the result is 5.5 amps.

A related rating is "reserve capacity." It's a rating of how many minutes a battery can continuously produce 25 amps before complete discharge. By multiplying the reserve capacity minutes by a factor of .65, you'll get an approximation of that battery's amp-hour capacity. We say approximation because 25 amps is a pretty big load. Most RVers won't be using 25 amps, certainly not continuously until discharge, so the reality is, the actual "usable" amp-hour capacity would probably work out a bit higher.

public domain image
But then come those "narsty" little ratings: CCA, CA, and MCA. Ah, the "A" family! CCA is the fractious one. CCA represents the maximum amount of amps that can be produced by a battery in 30 seconds at 0 degrees Fahrenheit. MCA is for "marine cranking amps," similar to CCA, only at 32 degrees. And CA, or "cranking amps" is the same rating as CCA. All three of these characters are useful for comparing batteries you need to start your engine with. BUT for RVers, when considering storage of electricity for use in running lights, pumps, fans, televisions, etcetera, they are USELESS.

Here's where we aren't full of it. Some have tried to advance the idea that you simply divide the CCA number by 6, and viola! The result is an approximate amp-hour capacity figure. But Billy Joe, it just ain't so. Here's a couple of real-world examples. A Yuasa 68MF battery is rated by its manufacturer as a 525 CCA battery. By this "divide by 6" theory, the amp-hour capacity should be 87.5. But in reality, Yuasa says the amp-hour capacity here is but 68 amp-hours. Meanwhile an Optima D34 battery has a much larger CCA rating--870. Divide that by 6, the"predicted" amp-hour capacity is 145, bad sadly, the reality is the rated amp-hour capacity here is even less than the Yuasa. Optima says the D34 is rated for only 55 amp-hours. So in our photo, that huge 1465 CCA might not be worth a hoot for powering your bedside reading light--you just can't tell.

So what gives? Battery plate design and size and other factors simply make a "CCA to amp-hour" comparison an impossible, "apples to oranges" scenario. When shopping for RV "house" batteries, those that will be used as "deep cycle" storage units for operating your coach equipment, stick with amp-hour capacity wherever possible, or gamble a bit with "reserve minutes."

And remember too, discharging a deep cycle battery to the very bottom means you'll get very few discharge-recharge cycles. Bottom line there--expect to buy house batteries far more often. The old rule of thumb for boondockers really does apply: Don't discharge your deep cycle batteries to less than half their capacity before recharging them. In practical terms as we've often said, 12.2 volts (without a load on) is the recharging point for better battery life expectancy.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Boondock Arizona -- in the summer?

R&T De Maris photo

Driving south into Quartzsite from Parker, Arizona this week, we did a quick survey of RVs heading north. More than a quarter of all vehicles rushing north were RVs. Apparently they felt April 1 marked the official end of boondocking for Arizona, and we saw plenty of license plates that indicated Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming were parts these folks were headed for. For some, it seems 80 degree weather is just too much to handle.

Still, there are folks who really do love the dry, hot summers. Can you successfully boondock away from shore power and keep cool enough to survive? Altitude is the key: Not all of Arizona is low-down, overheated desert. Some have found the Chiricahua National Monument in south-centeral part of the state an excellent place to beat the heat, along with providing some stellar views. The monument has a developed campground (length restrictions apply, check out the monument website and click on the campground link under "camping") but some RVers stay free in the Coronado National Forest, just outside the monument.

At the other end of the state, near Flagstaff, where the average high temperature in July is 82 degrees, Uncle Sam offers yet more places to boondock. In the Coconino National Forest there are plenty of developed campgrounds (with associated fees), visit the campground website here for more details. However, free camping is allowed in "dispersed" areas. As an example, take exit 326 from Interstate 17. A paved road leads south, and leads to dirt roads through the pines where dispersed camping is allowed at no charge.

Yes, it does take a bit of mind-set to camp out when temperatures push toward the triple degree mark, but it's certainly not impossible. But by heading up-country, even one of the nation's hot-boxes like Arizona can be summer RV friendly.