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!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Phone Problems

Sorry for the delay in new posts, the SD card in my phone where I store all the photos I take of the camp sites I stay in is acting up and I don't know if I'll be able to recover the pictures I've taken.  I'm currently staying at the Escapee's Dreamcatcher RV Park in Deming, NM which I previously reviewed here:  Dreamcatcher RV Park Review .  I'll keep trying to pull photos off my recalcitrant SD card and post as soon as I'm successful.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Campground Review: Potters Creek Park Canyon Lake, TX

I'm always looking for parks that accept my Senior Access Pass 50% discount off their camping fees.  I found a really nice one on the northern shore of Canyon Lake, Potters Creek Park, which is an Army Corps of Engineers constructed park in the Hill Country of south central Texas.  Most National Parks, Corps of Engineers, federally administered parks accept the pass and it has saved me a ton on camping fees!  When I got to the park only one of three sections was open for camping.  It was a couple weeks after Hurricane Harvey and the CoE were reserving one large section for any evacuees that might need a place to stay (this seemed weird to me, if they didn't get anyone just after Harvey why hold campsites more than two weeks after it hit?)  It's a big park, though, with 130 full hookup campsites so I scored a nice shaded campsite in the loop that was open.

The giant live oak trees kept the afternoon sun off the Mini.

There really aren't any hiking trails in or around Potters Creek Park so I got my walking in on some of the country roads going by the park where some of my fellow campers also biked.  I guess the main activity at the park would be boating on Canyon Lake.

The boat ramp onto Canyon Lake.

Here's the Potters Creek data sheet:

Hookups:                                             20, 30, 50 amp, water                                                
Fire ring:                                              Yes                                                                 
Water Access:                                     Yes (lake)                                                       
Fresh Water:                                        Yes                                         
Trash Service:                                      Yes                                         
Toilets:                                                Yes (flush)                                         
Showers:                                             Yes                                                                 
Dump station:                                      Yes                                         
WiFi:                                                   No                                          
Level sites:                                          Yes                                         
Laundry:                                              No                                                                  
Store:                                                   No                                                                              
Pool:                                                    No                                                      
Shade:                                                 Yes                                                     
Verizon reception:                                4G, 3 bars                                           
Internet reception:                                3 bars                                      
Cost:                                                  $26/night, $13/night with Senior Pass

Being in the Hill Country meant that there were a lot of deer in the park and it was a rare walk where I didn't encounter some.

One of the park's deer families.

Like all the CoE parks I've stayed in Potters Creek is really well laid out and the showers and bathrooms were cleaned on a daily basis, the trash dumpsters were emptied daily too.

Covered picnic area with shower building in the background.

For full hookups and access to Canyon Lake $13 a night at Potters Creek Park is a pretty great value!  I'd never camped there before but I'll definitely be back.

Thanks for reading!