Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Campground Review: Soldier Lake Campground Raco, MI

In the heart of the Hiawatha National Forest I "discovered" a small camping gem, Soldier Lake Campground.  I camped there for a week in August and will definitely be adding it to my "Will Return" list.

Administrated by the National Forest Service.

Soldier Lake is a tiny fresh water lake about two miles south of M-28 and twenty miles east of Newberry.  The campground stretches around three sides of the lake and includes a day use public beach and picnic area with a nice sandy beachfront.

Soldier Lake seen from the public beach area.

Here's Soldier Lake Campground's data sheet:

Hookups:                                             None, dry camping                                                    
Fire ring:                                              Yes                                                                 
Water Access:                                     Yes                                                     
Fresh Water:                                        Yes                                         
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, 1 bar                                            
Internet reception                                 1 bar
Cost:                                                     $16/night, $8/night with Senior Pass

Coming into the campground on a Tuesday I was fortunate to get a lake front site with probably one of the best views in the whole place as a lot of the lakefront sites have their view of the lake blocked by thick stands of trees.

The beautiful lake view from campsite #8.

I really picked site 8 because it was relatively open to the sky vs. most of the heavily shaded sites and I knew I'd be relying heavily on my solar setup with no hookups.  The second half of my stay turned rainy and it was a challenge to keep all my devices and the Mini's house battery charged with the dearth of direct sunlight.

There are several marked hiking trails through the thickly treed forest surrounding the campground.

A trailhead near the campground.

The road through the campground is paved which was nice when it rained so hard, it was still possible to get walks in without wading through a river of mud.

I loved the camping experience at Soldier Lake!  For $56 I got seven days of great lakefront camping and the rain at the end was free of charge.  If you're in the Upper Peninsula near Newberry I'd strongly recommend staying at Soldier Lake Campground!

Thanks for reading!

Monday, August 6, 2018

Air Force

I recently acquired a drone with a HD camera to help better document the campgrounds I camp in.  Here's a demo from the Pickford Township Park:

A little "bouncy" I guess but it was just my second day of flying it and at least a part of it gives a feel for the park.  It also can take stills:

That's me by the picnic table.

The Mini's campsite from 100 feet.

Maybe I can find some video editing software to give a more polished look,  I'll do some research into it.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, July 30, 2018

Too Big Breakfast of the Week

I've been in Michigan's Upper Peninsula for the last ten days or so enjoying not being in the Southwest's triple digit temperatures.  Here in Pickford it gets to the low 80's in the day and the low 50's at night -- great sleeping weather!  Whenever I camp in Pickford I eat one (and only one) breakfast at Big D's Diner.  Why only once?  Check out the portions.

Big D's Southern omelette.  I couldn't finish it.

I also got to attend another Spartan wedding this month.  My lovely niece Rachel got married on the Spartan campus and my daughter and I had a great time at the reception at MSU's Kellogg Center.

Two lovelies.  My daughter Nickelle (L) and cousin Rachel (R).

Got a blogging enhancement coming (foreshadowing) that I'll intro in my next post.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, July 20, 2018

Solar Water

One of the few quibbles I have regarding the Mini is a problem with the water heater.  When I have hookups the electric side of the heater works great, heating 6 gallons of water quickly.  My problem is the propane side of the heater, it worked originally but doesn't anymore.  Don't know if I managed to crimp the propane line going to it or what and it's such a small problem it wasn't worth dragging the Mini back to Ohio to the dealer to get warranty work done on it.  Plus they'd probably  keep the Mini for a few days so I'd get to pay for staying in a motel during that time.  So I researched solar water heaters and found this one:

It works for the same reason you don't wear black on a hot sunny day.

You pour about a gallon or so of water into it then set it in the sun (here it's on the hot hood of the pickup) and about 3 hours later you have water that's up to 120 degrees.  I touched the bag to determine when it'd be comfortable to shower with then took it onto the Mini's shower and had a decent shower!  I only used about half the water in the bag.  Simple and effective, just like me!  Beats driving to Ohio!

I got back to my campsite in the Lake Michigan Rec area as quick as I could and, fortunately it was unoccupied so I jumped on it.

"My" campsite!

Why keep coming back to the same site?

Hard to beat this backyard!

No mosquitoes (surprisingly), great hiking, almost ideal temps, almost total quiet (except for birds), usable Verizon (with a cell booster) oh, and it's free for up to 14 days!

This was my second stretch at the site this summer and I'm not ruling out a third!

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Happy 242nd, America

A nice big steak to celebrate the 4th in the Manistee National Forest!

Got my work cut out for me.

I'll need more than my usual hike along Greens Road to burn these calories!

Shady Greens Road.

Have a Great 4th!

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, June 30, 2018

End of the Month Catch-up

I'm back at the Lake Michigan Recreation Area for the week leading up to July 4th boondocking in some great weather, although kind of warm.  I originally reviewed the Rec Area here:  Lake Michigan Rec Area Review .

Lake Michigan

I got here early and snagged the last campsite that has open views of the sky with only a few blocking trees so solar and DISH TV are both working really well!

Even running the DISH and TV while charging my phone the battery stays at 100%.

On a sadder note my 35 year old Ibanez electric guitar finally gave up the ghost.  I loved that old guitar but over 35 years I really beat the Hell out of it.  So I got a new one!

It even came with a nifty guitar stand.  Thanks Amazon!

This campground is one of my all-time favorites and it's pretty packed which isn't surprising given the holiday next week.  My campsite is nicely isolated from the sites to either side so I can't see or hear my neighbors which is great.  You can even get decent Verizon reception if you use a cell booster.

Part of the Manistee National Forest.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Breakfast at Big D's Pickford, MI

I'm spending a week at the Glen Gough Memorial Park in Pickford, MI.  I previously reviewed the park here:  Picford Township Park Review.  When you stay in Pickford eating at least one breakfast at Big D's Diner is MANDATORY.

The Meatlover's Omelette!  About a pound of goodness.
One of the daily specials is the Meatlover's Omelette which must have at least a half pound of cheese, meat and eggs in it -- I challenge you to finish it!

As far as I got.

Fortunately Big D's provides "To Go" boxes because as you can see I have another meal left over.  Diet, what diet?

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Campground Review: Midland County Fairgrounds Midland, MI

When I visit my family in Midland, MI I used to park the Mini at the Four Seasons RV Park and bite the bullet and pay their $38 per night camping fee because there really isn't a lot of RV parks in the Midland area.  This year I wanted to visit my Dad for Father's Day so I did some research on non -$38 per night venues and found that the Midland County Fairgrounds charged only $20 per night so I tried the fairground camping out.

87 degrees!  So much for escaping the Southwest heat.

The RV sites at the Fairgrounds are informally laid out on grass pull-thru's where the electric hookups are supplied by centrally located poles where about 6 to eight receptacles are hung.

The Mini parked near a "power pole", water is available from spigots like in the foreground.

Here's the Midland County Fairground data sheet:

Hookups:                                             20, 30 & 50 amp, water                                             
Fire ring:                                              No                                                                              
Water Access:                                     No                                                                  
Fresh Water:                                       Yes                                                     
Trash Service:                                     Yes                                                                 
Toilets:                                                Yes                                         
Showers:                                             Yes                                                     
Dump station:                                      Yes                                         
WiFi:                                                    No                                          
Level sites:                                          Yes                                         
Laundry:                                              No                                                      
Store:                                                   No (Across the street from a Mall)                            
Pool:                                                    No                                          
Shade:                                                Yes                                         
Verizon reception:                               4G, 4 Bars                                          
Internet reception:                               4 bars
Cost:                                                    $20 per night

There are several very well cleaned bathrooms around the Fairgrounds, one has showers for campers.

The flower-lined shower house at Midland County Fairgrounds.

As I mentioned in the Data Sheet you could not be any closer to shopping when you stay at the Fairgrounds, the Midland Mall is right across the street along with a Walmart, Home Depot and a bunch of other stores.  The Fairgrounds is also only about a half mile from my Dad's house so that was also convenient.

The campground office is thru the glass doors then immediately left.

The county really does a nice job of keeping the Fairgrounds up and litter free, it really enhanced the camping experience.

Even the Dump Station is lined with flowers!

I enjoyed my 3 days camping at the Midland County Fairgrounds and I enjoyed saving $54 dollars over what I would have spent at Midland's "other" RV park even more.  The Fairgrounds is now my default Midland campground!

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Michigan's Casino Trail

Every year as I make my way from the hot Southwest to the cooler climate of Michigan's Upper Peninsula my monthly costs go up due to increased gas usage incurred by the long distance travel (the pickup/Mini combo only gets 10 mpg).  One way I stretch my budget during this period is by "casino camping" at the Indian casinos across the UP.  Most welcome RV'ers for a couple of nights and a few even provide free electrical hookups.  I reviewed one of the more popular casinos here:  Kewadin St. Ignace Review .  I'm actually at the Kewadin Manistique casino right now which offers free electrical hookups.

Free hookups and blackjack!

So if I can break even playing blackjack (yeah, right!) I can end up saving $15 or $20 a night I'd spend even at my Passport America discounted rates.  Sometimes I even leave the casino with more money than I came with!

The Mini's grassy site at Kewadin Manistique Casino.

Surprisingly, there aren't that many places in Michigan's UP that you can boondock in, at least that I've found, so utilizing the free casino camping is a good way to keep costs down.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Year Five of Road Life Completed

Today marks my fifth anniversary of full timing in an RV.  When I closed on the sale of my house in Texas on June 6, 2013 I told myself I would give RV living a full six months to see if I was going to embrace it or not.

2400 square feet down to 160, what could go wrong?

Although I was a complete RV newb I was able to avoid a lot of camping and RV pitfalls by reading as many of the many RV blogs on the Internet as I could and learning from other people's experiences.  I'm really grateful for that education, I probably couldn't have made it five years without it and I'd encourage anyone thinking of heading out to read RV blogs you'll never regret it.

What's next?  I don't have any plans to stop full timing, I just love traveling around our country and camping in new (and some repeat) locations.  I'll try to keep reviewing cool campsites when I find them, maybe that can be part of my paying the RV experience thing forward.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Summer Migration

I said goodbye to Colorado and began my annual move back to the upper Midwest, specifically Michigan's Upper Peninsula.  Passing through Kansas I stopped off at the Lyons city park where the city thoughtfully provides free electricity and allows you to stay up to five days if you want.  I previously reviewed the park here:  Lyons Trailer Park Review .  If you visit Lyons you HAVE TO go to Scrambled Sams for breakfast (I did two days in a row!), the omelettes are so great!

And I'm not even a breakfast eater!

It's going to hit 96 today in Lyons which should make me grateful for the free electric hookups for running the Mini's AC.  There's another guy here with a tiny trailer without AC that I feel for, it's got to be like an oven in there.  Next up I'm heading north into Nebraska and hopefully at least slightly cooler temperatures.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Oh, Hail No!

In my last post I bragged on how nice the weather is at Antero Reservoir in mid-May.  Guess that tweaked the Weather Gods:

The hail was marble-sized and pretty heavy in duration.  I ran out through it to rescue my deployed solar panels (they ARE 95 % glass) fearing they couldn't take the constant hits and as my "rescue" proceeded I took a few hits to my ears that really smarted!  Today as I post this the weather has returned to sunny and crisp, but I'm NOT bragging about it!

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Back to Antero

Readers of the blog know that I rated the camping experience at Antero Reservoir near Hartsel, CO as one of the best I've had in the years I've been wandering around.  I reviewed Antero Reservoir camping in 2013 here:  Antero Reservoir Review .  I tried to return to Antero in 2016 for another camping session only to find it closed (and drained) for maintenance and repairs on the dam that creates the reservoir.  Happily, the reservoir is "back in business" so that's where I'm spending the next ten days or so.

One of Denver's principle sources of drinking water.

Middle of the month of May is a great time to camp at the 8900 foot elevation, sunny days in the low seventies and nights in the low 40's....sleeping weather!

Great weather!  The views are OK too.

Even though the reservoir was drained and the trout removed, it was restocked after it was reopened and there are throngs of fishermen on and around the reservoir.

Fishermen trying their luck on the reservoir.

Even though it's the second half of May there are still areas with snow on the ground that hasn't melted yet.

A large patch of snow in a field near Antero.

I'm really looking forward to the next week or so of camping at Antero!

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Escape to Rabbit Valley

Needing to get my mail forwarded to me from the excellent Escapee Mail Forwarding service I needed to hang out near Grand Junction, CO for four or five days until the General Delivery packet got forwarded from Livingston, TX to a Grand Junction Post Office.  Initially, I planned on staying on the BLM land just north of the city where I had camped previously but after one day there I wanted to relocate.  Unfortunately, the locals have absolutely trashed this once excellent camping spot, littering it with everything from broken washing machines to what appears to be the remains of a demolished house, let alone the tens of thousands of spent shotgun shells that litter almost everywhere.  I couldn't help but think of the great camping in Rabbit Valley twenty miles to the west in the McGinnis Canyons National Conservation Area I had enjoyed a couple years back so I returned to the Jouflas Campground which I previously reviewed here: Rabbit Valley Review .

Like seeing an old friend!

I lucked out and got my old camp site when I got there.

The only site at Jouflas with some vegetation.

The difference between the condition of the pristine land within the McGinnis Canyons Conservation Area and the now pathetic BLM land near Grand Junction couldn't be more stark, I'd made the right move to relocate.

One of the tons of rock formations along hiking trails.

There's an excellent series of hiking trails near Jouflas Campground and I did my daily hikes along them.

Trail 2, one of the main trails in the Jouflas system.

A service road that connects Jouflas to a campground about 5 miles south.

Heartbreak Hill:  the climb back up to Jouflas from the trails.

I usually carry a Walmart shopping bag in my pocket in case I see litter while on my walks.  There was virtually no litter in Rabbit Valley so I left the bags back at the Mini.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, May 2, 2018


Tech-nically Homeless hit it's 100,000th page view today.  Wow, that's a lot of views!  When I started the blog five years ago I thought it would be a way to assure my daughter, who was very worried a newb like me would drive off a mountain road in the dark, that I was still alive and kicking, or at least I was whenever my last post occurred,  I honestly never thought I'd get more than one or two family views a day, given that my writing isn't the most scintillating.  Then I decided to include reviews of all the cool places I was finding to camp in with the hope that it would help other newbies like me starting out and I think that's what got the page views going.

I hope I've helped readers find destinations and learn good camping skills as much as the blogs I read have helped me through these last five years!  I'll keep after it!

The Happy Camper!

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Campground Review: Disbursed Camping in the Moapa Valley, NV Along Sand Mine Road

Temperatures in Arizona continued to rise so I headed northwest up into Nevada's Moapa Valley to BLM land along Sand Mine Road seeking cooler climate.  Moapa Valley runs northwest to southeast and is situated in Clark County about 30 miles northeast of Las Vegas.  The valley was originally settled by the Anasazi people around 350 BC.  In the late-1860's the first white people, Mormon pioneers, immigrated into the valley. 

You don't need 4 wheel drive if you stay close to the road.

I did my now practiced routine of finding the first place along the road, parking the rig there and then proceeding on foot to find the best available site in the area.  I found a pretty good one about a half mile further along Sand Mine Road.

The Mini's desert site about 50 yards off Sand Mine Road.

Here's the Sand Mine Road 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
Cost:                                                    Free for up to 15 days

Initially, temperatures during the cloudless days were in the low to mid-80's and nights were in the mid-50's, pretty ideal!  I did my daily walking along Sand Mine Road which is mostly hard packed dirt and gravel.

Sand Mine "Road".

My site was pretty secluded even though it was out in the open desert, my nearest neighbor was a half mile away, then he left two days in and my next nearest was about a mile away.

This canyon separated my camp area from another further north.
Some of the cacti in the area were flowering.

One of the things I really appreciate about desert camping is the virtual absence of flying insects of any kind.  Often while camping in forests you have to hurry in and out of the trailer to avoid flys, or worse, mosquitoes flying in the open door, not so in the desert!

I called this area along my walk "The Badlands".

I got to Sand Mine Road around the middle of April and as I mentioned for the first week the weather was just ideal with the bonus of cloud-free days providing great sun for the Mini's solar setup.  I intended to stay the whole 15 day limit but unfortunately the second week the temperatures spiked into the mid to high 90's after extremely high winds blew in a warm front.

High winds blew over the solar suitcase so I had to lay it almost flat.

With Lin's Grocery, a full service grocery store, only seven miles away in Overton, NV it's very possible to complete the whole 15 day stay along Sand Mine Road without running out of supplies.  Next year I might come a couple weeks earlier in the season and avoid the heat and make the full 15 days, the peaceful uncrowded nature of the campsites coupled with the excellent cellular coverage make it worth it!

Thanks for reading! 

Friday, April 20, 2018

A Mistake Corrected

Readers of this blog know that I try to avoid staying in "pay-for" campgrounds like KOA etc. and instead try to stay on free camping land.  As I meander around the country free camping isn't always available sometimes due to the route I'm traveling or because I'm in a state that doesn't offer very much free camping (looking at you Minnesota!).  It seems at least once a month I'll bite the bullet and fork over the full cost of a one or two night stay at a commercial RV park....begrudgingly.

All those times I've paid full price (sometimes as much as $45/night) I could have paid half price instead!  How is that possible and why the heck wouldn't I take the half price instead?  The first answer is that there is a RV discount card you can use that gives 50% discounts at thousands of RV parks nation wide.  The second answer is ..... I dunno.

Passport America is the discount card I'm referencing and I'm embarrassed that I've been full-timing for almost five years and I just got mine last month.

50% off sound good?

Since early March I've used the card three times and have already saved MORE than the $44/year the card costs!  I'm kicking myself for not having gotten the card the day I set out to full-time in the Tank, I would have saved hundreds of dollars by now.  A couple of caveats:  not every RV park accepts the discount card  (go to their website:  Passport America Park Map ) The second is that many member parks put rules up on the usage, like limiting the number of discount nights you can get or the season you can use it in, like not during the busy season in Arizona from December to March.

Because I'm a member of the Escapees RV club Passport America adds an extra three months onto the subscription for a total of 15 months for $44 so if you get one check to see if any groups you belong too are eligible too.  The cool thing is the flexibility the card gives you on your travels -- instead of shying away from a $35/night park now you have the option of paying $17.50 for at least the first couple days.

I made a mistake as a newbie full-timer in not having this card with me the day I headed out and it cost me hundreds of dollars in full-priced stays, now you'll be able to avoid that mistake.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, April 13, 2018

Campground Review: Disbursed Camping along Thumb Butte Loop, Prescott National Forest

The most prominent feature southwest of the town of Prescott, AZ (Pop: 42,513) within the Prescott National Forest is Thumb Butte, a mountaintop that kind of looks like a thumb I guess.  Thumb Butte Loop is a forest road that winds around the Butte in a large circle and there are 21 disbursed camping sites along it.

A distant view of Thumb Butte - Prescott National Forest

Driving up the Loop many of the sites were either occupied or had a "placeholder" tent or vehicle in them meant to reserve the site for future occupation and use.

A camper left in a campsite to reserve it.

Thumb Butte Loop's road quality varied from hard packed gravel/dirt to really pot holed barely drive able at more than 5 mph.

A "good" portion of Thumb Butte Loop

Because Prescott National Forest is a "Wildland-urban-interface" (WUI) campers are limited to only a seven day stay vs. the normal 14 day limit in most National Forest.  A ranger who stopped by my campsite said the WUI designation is because Prescott is a fairly large town compared to the small towns that usually abut National Forests.

Here's the data sheet on Thumb Butte Loop:

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:                                                 Yes                                         
Verizon reception:                               4G, 3 bars                                           
Internet reception:                               3 Bars                         
Cost:                                                    Free for up to 7 days

The sites along the Loop, which are designated by metal poles the Forest Service has put up, vary quite a bit in size and big rig accessibility.  Not that the Mini really qualifies as a "big rig" but the first two sites I tried to squeeze into didn't fit very well but I finally found a suitable campsite at pole 9.

Campsite 9 -- even among the tall pines solar was adequate.
Forest Service campsite marker pole.

On the way up the Loop you drive past what look like campsites that even contain stone fire rings but lack a campsite pole like the one in the above snap.  If you attempt to camp in them rangers will evict you and, depending on if it's the weekend or not, you may have a problem finding a legit unoccupied campsite so be forewarned.

I did most of my walking along the Loop as it's relatively traffic free at least during the weekdays.  There were some paths through the pine trees that in some cases were a little challenging, especially since you're at 6400 foot altitude.

Hiking path through the pines.

Unlike some of my recent Arizona camping experiences the section of Prescott National Forest that Thumb Butte Loop runs through was virtually litter-free.  As you can tell from the photos the weather was sunny and low-80's during the day and high-50's at night -- perfect camping weather!

By early April the temperatures in southern Arizona start hitting the 90's, making boondocking without AC challenging, at least during the day.  A good way to beat the heat is to gain altitude at camping areas like that along 6400 foot Thumb Butte Loop and I hope to be back again next April!

Thanks for reading!