Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Last Meal

Happy New Year, everybody!  I'm really looking forward to camping in some awesome locations in 2018.  On the last day of the year I always have a "Last Meal" (of the year) and here's what this year's looked like:

Diet?  What diet?
The T-Bone was grilled medium rare on the Mini's gas grill.  The baked potato was microwaved to perfection in the Mini's microwave and the salad...well, salad is pretty much salad.  I was too full after finishing to even think about desert!  Have a safe evening!

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Merry Christmas From Arizona!

Merry Christmas!  I finally made it out to Arizona, Benson specifically, where I am staying at the SKP Saguro Co-Op for a whole month.  It's unusual for me to stay so long at one location but the Co-Op offers a full hookup site for $310 for a whole month.  It's the height of the Snowbird season in Arizona and getting a full hookup site in a nice park for $10 a night is crazy, so I couldn't turn it down.  I reviewed the campground in 2016 here:  SKP Saguro Review .  I got here a week ago and the weather has been unseasonably cool with nightly lows getting into the upper 20's so I've been grateful to have electrical hookups to enable my space heater to run at night.  Today though it's a perfect 72 degrees and next week is supposed to be warmer too.

When my month here is up it'll be just in time to drive west on I-10 to the annual Quartzsite RV Big Tent show that starts January 20 - 28.  Here's my Yule fire:

Thanks for reading!

Friday, December 15, 2017

All I Want for Christmas Are New Balance MW877's!

Readers of this blog are aware that one of my main forms of exercise is walking at least three miles a day, usually outdoors but occasionally on treadmills at Anytime Fitness gyms.  This exercise puts a lot of wear and tear on my footwear, which is typically New Balance gym shoes.  I've worn New Balance shoes for at least the last twenty years because they are so comfortable and well built.  My last set lasted me three and a half years but were showing their miles.

My old New Balance pair, about 4000 miles later.

Brand new New Balance MW 877's men's walking shoes!  Thanks, Santa!

If I get as many miles out of this pair as I got out of the last I'll be more than happy.  Incidentally, I haven't been compensated for saying I love New Balance shoes, I just really do!

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Campground Review: Camp Creek Recreation Area Marble Falls, TX

Heading west from my stay in the Livingston, TX area I made it to Camp Creek Recreation Area about ten miles east of Marble Falls, TX.  Camp Creek Recreation Area is located on the banks fo the Colorado River and is administered by the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA),

The LCRA allows dry camping in the rec area for up to five nights.  There are nine spacious RV camp sites and ten or so tent camping sites in the area.  The main attraction to the Camp Creek Rec area is it's location on the bank of the Colorado River, although only a couple of the RV sites are actually on the riverbank (all the tent sites are on the bank).

The Colorado River seen from a tent campsite.

Here's the Camp Creek data sheet:

Hookups:                                             None (Dry Camping)                                                 
Fire ring:                                              Yes                                                                             
Water Access:                                     Yes (River)                                                                 
Fresh Water:                                        No                                          
Trash Service:                                     Yes                                         
Toilets:                                                Yes (Vault)                                                    
Showers:                                             No                                                      
Dump station:                                     No                                          
WiFi:                                                    No                                          
Level sites:                                          Yes                                         
Laundry:                                              No                                                      
Store:                                                   No                                                                              
Pool:                                                    No                                          
Shade:                                                 Yes                                         
Verizon reception:                               4G, 3 bars                               
Internet reception                                3 Bars
Cost:                                                    Free for up to 5 nights

Upon arriving at the rec area there were only two RV sites occupied so I parked and reconnoitered on foot before selecting two possible sites.  The first was along tiny Camp Creek and was very secluded.

Nice creek-side site, too much shade for solar, though.

The camp site I decided on was away from the creek or river but had plenty of open sky for the Mini's solar setup.

The Mini's site with solar suitcase deployed.

Each campsite at Camp Creek comes with a picnic table, fire ring and a grill.

Typical site equipment at Camp Creek.

I stayed four nights and one thing I really appreciated about Camp Creek Rec Area was how quiet and peaceful it is.  Virtually silent at night!  Every morning there were deer grazing not 20 yards from the Mini so that was very cool too.  While dry camping isn't for everyone if you enjoy it as I do I really recommend Camp Creek Recreation Area for a quiet camping experience!

Thanks for reading! 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Mini Repair Update

In a previous post I referenced needing to stay in the Livingston, TX area for electrical repairs to the Mini.  The GFIC outlet had shorted out and wouldn't reset.

The hole in the bathroom where the GFCI outlet used to be.

I'm somewhat handy with my hands but I tend to draw the line at efforts to fix electrical shorts.  Also the Mini is still within the manufacturers warranty and I didn't want to risk voiding it with a "home brew" fix.  Learning from fellow Escapees that a RV repair firm named West RV and Automotive was a capable repair outfit I got on their schedule for the end of November -- always a good sign when the repair place is booked up for 10 days, it means people use them.  Be leery of the place that says "Bring it in this morning, we'll get right to it" when you call them.

Anyway, West RV took three hours finding that, through a manufacturing mistake, a wire to all the sockets on the interior walls of the Mini was pinned between an aluminum floor strut and the flooring.  It was just a matter of time until vibration from travel wore the wiring insulation off and the wires arced on the aluminum, causing the GFIC to go off and eventually cook.  If I had tried to replace the GFCI outlet the replacement would have cooked too.  So West RV pulled out the bad wiring and rerouted it so there was no longer a danger of it being rubbed against and my time in the Livingston area came to an end.


West RV contacted Forest River (the Mini's manufacturer) for me and convinced the Forest River customer rep to OK the entire repair as warranty work which was very cool because the rep said they usually didn't pay for diagnosis time but given the severity of the wiring flaw they would this time!  I can't recommend West RV highly enough if you're in East Texas in need of an RV repair.

I'm camping my way out to Arizona now where plans are to spend the winter.

Thanks for reading

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Campground Review: Lamesa RV Parking Area Lamesa, TX

Along my way to Livingston, TX I spent a couple of days camping at the small town of Lamesa, TX (Pop. 9461) near their excellent city park in their RV Parking Area.  The area consists of eight wider than average parking spaces, each with a 30 amp pedestal and a city water hookup.

"4 Days No Charge!!"

When I pulled in there were two other campers there but they pulled out the next morning and I had the place to myself for the next couple days.

The Mini's space at the Lamesa RV Parking Area.

Here's the Lamesa RV Parking data sheet:

Hookups:                                             20, 30 amp, water                                                      
Fire ring:                                              No                                                                  
Water Access:                                     No                                                      
Fresh Water:                                       Yes                                         
Trash Service:                                     Yes                                                     
Toilets:                                                Yes (flush)                                                     
Showers:                                             No                                                                  
Dump station:                                     Yes                                         
WiFi:                                                   No                                          
Level sites:                                         Yes                                         
Laundry:                                             No                                                      
Store:                                                  No (Quickmart ½ mile away)                                    
Pool:                                                   No                                                      
Shade:                                                Yes                                                     
Verizon reception:                               4G, 4 bars                                           
Internet reception:                               4 bars
Cost:                                                    Free for 4 days, $20/day thereafter

The park's kiddo play area directly across from the RV area

 Lamesa is a quiet little town and the RV area is pretty quiet with the exception of a fairly busy main road that runs past it, but it quiets down after about 10 pm.  One of the park's features is an 18 hole Frisbee golf course that runs through it that is also free to play.

One of the Frisbee golf course tees.

A the opposite end of the park is a really nice ball field.

The park ball diamond.

It's really great finding small towns that host the RV community with free hookups for three or four days.  It's a little surprising that more towns don't try to secure some of the commerce people who own expensive rigs (me excepted :D) represent.  It's very difficult to imagine the largest Class A rig using more than two or three dollars of electricity per day and the city camp areas I've stayed in appear to require very little upkeep after the initial setup.  Oh well...

The Lamesa RV Parking Area is a great place to stop for a day or two on your way across Texas.  It's probably going to be a regular stop for me on my way to and from Livingston.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Eggnog Pie Time

It's almost Thanksgiving and every year at this time I share one of my family's prized desert recipes....Eggnog Pie!  This recipe has been scientifically proven to pack the most calories possible into a single slice of pie.  Here's the link to my original post with the recipe:

 Eggnog Pie Recipe

Good luck with it (and with fitting into your jeans on Black Friday!)

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Gas Math

Each November I travel back to my "home town" of Livingston, TX to get my state inspection for my truck and then it's state registration sticker ($85, ouch).  Typically I stay at the Escapee's RV park in Livingston for a week or so, then head up to Austin to celebrate Thanksgiving with my sister and her husband and my daughter, making the Austin trip the first leg on the move out to Arizona for the winter.  That WAS the plan but when I hooked the Mini up to the power pedestal at the Escapee's park a sort of sizzling sound came from the 30 amp outlet with a slight smell of melting plastic.  Even though I disconnected my power cable as quick as I could the damage was done, the Mini's GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupt) switch was thrown and would not reset, even when I relocated to a different campsite with a different power pedestal.

The fried GFCI breaker.

A GFCI breaker prevents you from getting electrocuted if your hair dryer accidentally falls into your sink full of water.  In 1/40th of a second the breaker detects the ground fault and interrupts the electricity going to the appliance so you are protected.  In the Mini, the breaker is located in the bathroom and then all the other six wall outlets are also wired into the GFCI circuit which means if the breaker in the bathroom won't reset, all the wall outlets don't work.  Since the Mini is still under warranty I didn't choose to replace the GFCI breaker myself for fear of voiding the warranty.  After talking with several helpful Escapee's I found a RV service business in Livingston with a good reputation that does warranty work for the Mini's manufacturer (Forest River).  The drawback?  They are so busy they can't get me in until November 29th which means my plan to head west after the November 23rd Thanksgiving is off, I have to come back to Livingston for what will hopefully be a one day or less fix on the Mini.

So that leads to the Gas Math referenced in the title to this post.  My sister's place in Austin is 201 miles from where I'm presently camped.  The pickup gets about 10 MPG pulling the Mini so, effectively, getting my rig to Austin is a tank of gas or $50 in round figures.  Getting the rig back to Livingston for the repair work costs the same tank of gas so round trip it's $100.  The Escapee park I'm staying at costs about $18/night.  If I leave the Mini in the RV park and just drive my 18 MPG (highway) truck to Austin for Thanksgiving I get there and back for 1 tank of gas or $50.  That $50 plus the $36 bucks for the Mini's solo RV park stay (Wednesday and Thursday nights) means I save $14 by leaving the Mini.  Plus that's 400 miles less wear and tear on the Mini and a faster round trip because I never tow the Mini faster than 65 MPH regardless of the speed limit.  Hope the Mini doesn't miss me!

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Campground Review: Jal Lake Park Jal, NM

I recently ran across another campground that I almost hesitated to review because I wanted to keep it to myself, but I'd feel guilty so I'll review it anyway and let the cat out of the bag.  In the very southeast corner of New Mexico is the small town of Jal (Pop. 2121).  The town of Jal created a small man-made lake and built a really nice little park around it.  According to the city web site the lake, when viewed from the air, actually spells out the town's name!

"Jal...Small town Big Heart"

I guess the small island in the middle of the lake contributes the "a" in Jal to overhead viewers.

The small island in the center of Jal Lake that is accessed via a bridge.

Here's the Jal Lake Park data sheet:

Hookups:                                             20, 30, 50 A, water                                                 
Fire ring:                                              No                                                                              
Water Access:                                     Yes (no swimming)                                                    
Fresh Water:                                        Yes                                                     
Trash Service:                                      Yes                                         
Toilets:                                                Yes (vault)                                         
Showers:                                             No                                                                  
Dump station:                                      Yes                                         
WiFi:                                                   No                                                      
Level sites:                                          Yes                                                     
Laundry:                                              No                                                                  
Store:                                                  No                                                                  
Pool:                                                   No                              
Shade:                                                 No                                          
Verizon reception:                                4G, 4 of 5 bars                                                           
Internet reception                                 4 bars
Cost:                                                  Free for up to 3 days

Jal Lake Park's RV area is a paved parking lot on the north edge of the park with six very spacious campsites.

The Mini's site included a covered picnic table and grill.

The park has a couple really nice features, one is a walking sidewalk that goes all the way around the lake.  If you're a walking nut like me who gets their "steps" in every day it's really useful, and a huge improvement compared to walking in the street.

A lap equaled 3/4's of a mile.

There's a covered workout area with various body weight resistance stations.

The covered exercise area.  I'd do a lap then one exercise station then a lap.

There's a large flock of ducks that calls the park home and they're almost tame, they sleep by the walking path and seldom even move when you walk by.

Some of the flock.

Jal Lake Park is a little gem of a free campground, even if you can only stay three days.  I'm in Texas now but on my way out to Arizona after Thanksgiving you can bet I'll spend a couple days in Jal before continuing on my way.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, November 3, 2017

When (Back) In Texas....

It's always great to get back in the Lonestar State!  As I usually do when I get to a new town for the first time, in this case Lamesa, TX, I checked Yelp for positive restaurant reviews and found a sort of "hole in the wall" spot called The Lost Texan Cafe.

The Lost Texan Cafe!

I've learned not to judge a book by it's cover regarding restaurants in a small town so I went in the Lost Texan and ordered the plate almost every one of the Yelp reviews recommended:

The Chicken Fried Steak Plate!

Served with fries, salad and toast, the Chicken Fried Steak might not have quite lived up to the extravagant Yelp reviews but it was very good.  The home made gravy was especially good'  I'd come back.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Campground Review: Parks Ranch Whites City, NM

About 20 miles south of Carlsbad, NM on the east side of NM 62 is some Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land which means you can camp there for up to 14 days.  The parcel I decided to camp on is called Parks Ranch.  The reviews I had read of Parks Ranch mentioned some pretty rugged road getting into it so I planned on being flexible (and cautious) getting to it.  Turning off NM 62 immediately after the 10 mile marker you cross a cattle guard and drive onto a pretty rocky road. The road deteriorates about a mile from the highway and my gut told me I wasn't going to try pulling my six month old Mini any further in, at the same time a single campsite complete with fire ring appeared on my left so I decided to pull in and camp there.

The Mini's site about a mile short of the actual campground.

After setting up at the site I lucked into I decided to walk the remaining mile to the real Parks Ranch camp area and after about a quarter mile my "gut feeling" about bad road ahead was confirmed.

The road was so deeply rutted the Mini would have clearance problems.

When i got to Parks Ranch campground on foot the campsites there didn't appear to be any more desirable than the one I ended up with so I was happy to camp where I stopped.

One of the Parks Ranch campground sites backing up to a ravine.

Here's the Parks Ranch Data Sheet:
Hookups:                                             None (dry camping)                                                   
Fire ring:                                              Yes                                                                             
Water Access:                                     No                                                                  
Fresh Water:                                        No                                                      
Trash Service:                                      No (pack in, pack out)                                                           
Toilets:                                                 No                                                      
Showers:                                             No                                                                              
Dump station:                                      No                                                      
WiFi:                                                    No                                                      
Level sites:                                          Yes                                         
Laundry:                                              No                                                      
Store:                                                   No                                                                  
Pool:                                                    No                                          
Shade:                                                 No                                          
Verizon reception:                               4G, 4 bars                                           
Internet reception:                               4 bars of 5                                          
Cost:                                        Free for up to 14 days

I stayed at my campsite for four days, (the Astros' World Series games were to be played at night so I wanted to be somewhere with hookups for them) and got a real chance to test out the Mini's solar setup.  One thing that became apparent was that in cloudless New Mexico sunshine the 200 watt solar suitcase could easily overpower the Mini's new lithium ion battery pack which the manufacturer rates at 100 watt maximum charging input.  To limit the power coming in during peak sun I came up with the idea of hanging a towel over one of the suitcase's 100 watt solar panels, effectively reducing the power charging the battery to 100 watts.

Surprisingly, even a small amount of cover reduces the entire panel output.

My campsite had just a very minor bit of road noise from 62 during the day and none at night,  While I camped there no other campers were at Parks Ranch and it was great getting my daily walks in on the primitive roads.

A representative sample of the terrain around Parks Ranch.

I was really satisfied with my camping experience on the BLM land around Parks Ranch and would have stayed a few more days if not for the aforementioned must see Astros games.  One caution:  if you plan on making it all the way to the actual Parks Ranch campground make sure you have high ground clearance on both your vehicle and towed unit or risk damaging one or both from bottoming out!

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Hiking Guadalupe Mountains National Park

I have to be at my sister's place in Austin for Thanksgiving so I'm slowly camping my way back to central Texas.  Guadalupe Mountains National Park near Dell City, TX contains the highest peak in Texas, Guadalupe Peak at 8749 feet, and since it was along my route to Austin I stopped in to hike some of the park's trails.  The park encompasses 134 square miles so there's a ton of trails to choose from.  The Forest Service lets you stay in the hikers  parking area in your RV for $8 per night ($4 with your Golden Pass) so I took them up on it (no hookups).  Since I stayed in the RV spaces in the hiking parking lot and not at the park's actual campground I'll let the picture below be my review of the hikers parking lot:

A parking lot is pretty much a parking lot.

It still gets into the hi-80's even at altitude this time of year so I got off to an early start to beat the heat after I read the hiking info sign.

Good to know!
About 100 yards along the access trail you get a choice of the trails (and the degree of difficulty) that are available.

These are the hardest trails, there are some easier ones a little further in.

Not feeling up to an 8.4 mile round-trip I took the easier Frijole trail which initially skirted a giant rock field.

This thing ran for a lot longer than just this view.

The trails were always well marked when merging or diverging with other trails so it was easy to find your way.

The Tejas trail started climbing pretty quickly so I stayed on Frijole.

Here's a sample of what you hike on:

The Forest Service trims back cacti that impinge on the trails.
There is some non-desert vegetation the Frijole trail runs through:


I drank all my water on the outward leg of the Frijole trail (the climate is really arid) so I headed back to the Mini for about a two hour session, but I'll definitely come back to Guadalupe Mountains National Park to try some of the other trails, maybe even a tough one!

There were some young guys geared up to climb this!
Thanks for reading!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Fixes and Improvements

I uploaded all my photos to Amazon's cloud from my phone and then downloaded them to my laptop so I guess it's a workable solution.  I'm going to save future photos directly onto my phone so hopefully I'll be able to transfer them directly to this blog instead of the laborious up to the cloud and back again method.

Another fix I made was replacing the broken wheel jack assembly that I broke when I was up in Michigan.  Amazon had a drop-in replacement for it so I got it delivered here at the RV park I'm staying in.

The broken wheel jack assembly.

All fixed up!

The Mini came with a 110 watt-hour 12 volt house battery that only has 55 usable watt-hours because you're not supposed to run lead-acid batteries down more than 50% down.  I had room to add a second 12 volt battery but that would have only provided 110 usable watt-hours of off grid energy.  Research online revealed a UPS - like battery "generator" that offers 345 watt-hours (probably 300 usable) that weighed less than 8 pounds because the battery it used was lithium-ion like the battery in our phones, only way bigger.  I found one on Amazon that was 40% off and that had good customer reviews so I bought it and Amazon got it to my RV space in the park in 2 days.

The Chafon-brand "generator".
The generator came with a 100% charge so I plugged my TV and the Dish set top box into it for a trial -- it ran them both for over six hours before I shut it down when the gauge on the front indicated 20% charge remaining.  (Lithium ion batteries can be discharged to 20% without damaging them).
So instead of another heavy lead-acid battery the Mini has this little 8 pound powerhouse for solar storage!  My solar suitcase charged the little UPS back up in a couple hours which I thought was really fast!

So those are the Fixes and Improvements to the Mini (hopefully no more fixes!) thus far.

Thanks for reading!