Two Weeks with Nary a Hookup

Back when Corona was a beer, not a virus, we had planned to head out on a three-week camping trip in the Black Hills of South Dakota where we would hook up with some of our old A-frame trailer buddies.  When that trip got Covid-cancelled, we quickly booked space in a state park in southwestern Colorado.

The park sits beside a small, wake-free reservoir surrounded by scrub oak and ponderosa pine.  Pit toilets serve as restrooms.  We have no electrical hookup, no sewer hookup and there are only three water spigots shared by the entire campground, none of which are accessible by car. 

Most of our fellow campers are in tents or small trailers like ours with nary a big rig in sight.  Quiet and rustic, it reminds me of the campgrounds I frequented back in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

We’re here for 14 nights, the maximum allowed by park rules.  In seven years of trailer camping, this is only the fourth time we will be spending a full two weeks in one campground.  In the previous three, we’ve had a 30-amp electrical hookup and in two we had our own private water spigot.

Here, we will be recharging our batteries with a trio of 100-watt solar panels and filling our freshwater tank with water hauled in a jerry can, five gallons at a time.  Used water will be carted to the dump station in our 25-gallon Barker-brand sewer tote, which we’ve named “Bob.”

After spending eight nights camped in a full-hookup site next to Interstate 70 a few weeks back, the remote quietness of this park is a refreshing change. 

Hold Still, Mr. Sun

I love camping in the woods.  Unfortunately, bunking amongst the trees creates a little problem when trying to recharge the trailer batteries with solar.  It seems the sun keeps moving.

[Note to my seventh-grade science teacher:  Yes, I know it’s the earth that moves, not the sun.  But from the perspective of our campsite, it’s the sun that’s arcing overhead.  My X-chocked trailer hasn’t budged an inch.]

We’re spending two weeks in a state park campground without hookups.  Normally, keeping the trailer batteries charged with solar is easy.  Find a clear spot with a southern exposure.  Put one solar panel facing the 10:00 a.m. sun, another at the noon position and the third facing the 2:00 p.m. sun.  The batteries, which can be down 20+ amp-hours in the morning, will be fully charged well before happy hour.

That doesn’t work in the woods.  I place the panels in a spot where fresh sunlight bathes the ground.  Faster than cops racing to a doughnut truck accident, the sun moves, and shade soon smothers my solar output. 

There are two solutions to our predicament.  We could just fire up the generator to recharge the batteries.  But in the week we’ve been camped here, I’ve not heard any of our fellow campers running a generator.  I don’t want to be the first.

The other solution is to go out every second day with a pot of fresh coffee and a good book. We just sit back, relax and move the panels as the sun migrates across the sky.  After lunch, we merely substitute a different sort of brew and continue the charging task.

Heading Home

Heading home at the end of our two-week escape to southwestern Colorado.  We hiked about 38 miles through incredible Colorado scenery.  I read at least three books, we photographed several sunsets over the reservoir and we finally got to visit the Rio Grande Southern Railroad Galloping Goose Museum in Dolores. 

We loved the Mancos State Park campground.  Shady, quiet and rustic – just the way campgrounds used to be back in “the day.”  Shady, however, presented a problem.  We never got enough sun to fully solar charge our trailer batteries.  After 13 nights of camping and despite all our panel-moving efforts, the batteries’ state of charge was down over 20 percent. 

Lesson learned.  We will soon be replacing our anemic lead-acid batteries with top-of-the-line lithium batteries with far more reserve capacity.  I used a lot of data bytes researching options on our “move the solar panels back into the sun” days in camp.  Orders will be placed Monday.

In addition to experimenting the with using solar panels in shady campsites, we also did a refrigerator experiment on the way home.

One of the big controversies among trailer owners is whether to run the refrigerator on propane when traveling down the road.  One school of thought says to turn the propane and refrigerator off.  It will stay cool, they say.  The other school says if it wasn’t safe to run them on propane while traveling, manufacturers wouldn’t make that the automatic option. 

With Dianne packing the freezer full of ice cream and meat, we’ve always left the fridge on, running on propane while traveling.  We have an automatic emergency cutoff installed on the gas line if something were to sever the propane hose, so we feel relatively safe doing that.

Coming back from Mancos, we turned the fridge off.  The freezer was -3 and the refrigerator about 35 degrees when we left.  When we reached our final campsite eight hours later, the fridge was an acceptable 42 degrees, but the freezer had warmed to 35.  The beer was still cold, but any ice cream in the freezer would have turned into a melted mess.

Lesson learned.  Since we normally travel with lots of frozen food, we’ll be traveling on propane in the future. No need to risk melting our dessert when camping.