Tag Archives: desert

Desert Rain

After weeks of 110-115 degree temperatures, it’s a delightful 75 degrees and raining here in the Arizona desert. Need I say more?

Advertisements

Exploring RV Living – Home Is Where I Park It

(This post is part of a series. If you’re new to my blog or this is the first you’ve seen of this series, you might look at the introduction first.)

Living in an RV means that home is indeed wherever you choose to park it. But where? The possibilities are virtually endless, limited only by your imagination, resourcefulness, and sense of adventure. Let’s look at some of the options.

RV Parks And Campgrounds

First of all, what’s the difference between a park and a campground? There’s no real rule and sometimes the difference is in name only. Generally speaking, however, an RV park is oriented more toward longer-term residency — months, seasonal, or full-time. Campgrounds tend to be geared more to short-time visitors, and usually allow non-RV camping too.

Hook Me Up

RV Parks will almost always have full hook ups, meaning water, electric, and sewer connections. Cable TV, telephone, and WiFi may also be available. They are a good place to stay for someone who wants or needs the conveniences of “on-grid” living.

Campgrounds are often more rustic, and may offer fewer or different amenities. They may or may not have electricity. There may not be water or sewer hookups at each site, but rather a shared dump station and water spigot for campers to dump and fill as needed. Since campgrounds usually allow all types of camping, including tents, tiny trailers and vehicles without their own facilities, there are often toilets and showers available. You’ll frequently find picnic tables and fire rings. Campsites tend to be spread out more than they are in densely packed RV parks. You are not likely to find cable TV nor telephone hookups, and WiFi is rare, too.

Private Property

If you like privacy and space, and plan to stay put for a while, a plot of private land, rented or owned, may be a good option. If you are renting, your ability to customize the property might be limited. If you own the land, you are free to do as you please, minding local codes, of course. You have the choice of using available electric, water, and sewer infrastructure, or going off-grid with solar or wind power and your own well and septic system. You could even plant a garden and grow your own food! While you might enjoy a similar lifestyle in a small cabin or “Tiny House,” the advantage of an RV is that you can travel in it whenever you want, knowing you have your own home base to return to.

With the downturn in the economy, some private homeowners rent space to RVers to raise extra cash. Space, hookups, and amenities vary greatly, but it can be a nice alternative to an RV park. Craigslist is a good place to find such opportunities. Look in housing > parking & storage. While many of these private RV spaces are in exurban and rural areas, you can find them in cities and suburbs too.

Living Free

So far I’ve talked about places that will probably cost money. There are also places you can park and camp for free. You may give up some convenience as well as most amenities, but the price is right. You’ll need a fully self-contained RV for most of the free options.

Wally World

Parking lots are good for overnight stays. Wal-Mart is a popular spot; most of their stores are RV-friendly, knowing that the occupant is likely to do some shopping while there. Sometimes, however, local laws get in the way – if you’re not sure, check with store management or security. If you arrive late in the evening and leave early in the morning, you can usually get away with overnighting in almost any parking lot. Just use common sense, keep a low profile, and if you’re asked to leave, be polite, apologetic, and compliant.

Truck Stops

Truck stops are another place to stop overnight or even for a few days. On the plus side, they have some useful amenities for the traveler: fuel, restaurant, laundry, showers, WiFi, and a store. Many truck stops even cater to RVers by providing a separate RV parking section, water and dump station, and propane. On the minus side, they can be busy and noisy, and some might find the diesel fumes unpleasant.

While parking lots and truck stops may be fine for spending a night or two along the road between where you were and where you’re going, you wouldn’t want to spend too much time there. So what to do when you get where you’re going?

This Land Is Your Land…

Plenty of public land, mostly overseen by the US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, is available for what is called dispersed camping. This is totally free camping outside of designated improved camping areas. It’s an opportunity to get away from it all, enjoying nature while testing your own self-sufficiency. There are no hookups or amenities of any kind. You bring what you need, and take everything back out when you go, leaving the land exactly as you found it.

While there’s a 14-day limit on dispersed camping, the BLM maintains Long Term Visitor Areas in Arizona and California that allow seasonal camping for up to seven months (September 15th – April 15th). These areas have dump stations, potable water, and trash dumpsters available. LTVA camping is not free, but it’s darn close to it at $40 for two weeks or $180 for the whole season.

Thousands of full-time RVers spend their winters on BLM land near Quartzsite, AZ in either the LTVAs or dispersed camping areas. I spend some time there myself each winter, part of it attending the annual week-long Quartzfest ham radio gathering in January.

Unfortunately there really isn’t a good single source of information regarding camping on public lands — you’ll have to start by going to each agency’s website (BLM or USFS) and then choosing the state you are interested in. A couple of crowd-sourced online databases look interesting — boondocking.org and freecampsites.net — the first allows you to search based on proximity to desired GPS coordinates, while the second lets you browse by state.

Friends and Family

Last but not least, if they have the room, you might be able to camp in a friend or family member’s driveway or yard. It’s a great way to visit loved ones, or to support them in times of need.

Please share your thoughts — comments are open!

Swamp Cooling In The Desert

The Phoenix area is once again under an Excessive Heat Advisory with temperatures expected to be over 115 degrees through the weekend. It’s already 110° here this morning and it isn’t even noon yet. Earlier this week I wrote about how my swamp cooler was successfully taming the intense desert heat. It just occurred to me that some of you may not be familiar with evaporative coolers, and some of you who might know something about them may have some misconceptions. Here’s what my cooler looks like:

It’s not much to look at, is it? This particular cooler was purchased brand new about five years ago, yet it differs very little from the early twentieth century design upon which it is based.

Behind the louvers are excelsior pads which are kept wet with water. A blower inside the cabinet draws fresh air through the wet pads, and as the air passes through the pads, the water evaporates, causing the air to be cooled. The heat is literally being removed from the air as it vaporizes the water.

That’s probably technical enough for this description. If you want to learn more about how it works, this Wikipedia entry is a good start.

Swamp cooler? I thought you lived in the desert!

Well, yes. At least right now. And that’s where it works the best. Properly called an evaporative cooler, there are a few possible origins of its colloquial name. Perhaps it is because the extra humidity it adds to the air, especially during monsoon season or in an improperly vented room, can make it feel like a swamp. It could be because the air being pulled through the wet excelsior pads cools just like a breeze blowing through wet swamp vegetation. I’ve even heard it suggested that they are called swamp coolers because algae growing in a neglected or improperly maintained cooler can make it smell like a swamp, but that isn’t a problem I’ve ever  had in the 30+ years I’ve lived in the desert and used evaporative coolers.

Why use a swamp cooler?

  • Energy Efficiency – It uses 1/4 the electricity of mechanically refrigerated air conditioning.
  • Fresh Air – An evaporative cooler is constantly adding fresh air, replacing the air as frequently as once per minute.
  • Simplicity – An evaporative cooler is a very simple machine, making it economical to purchase, repair, and maintain.

Why aren’t they more common?

For one thing, they only work well in very dry climates, so you are not likely to find them outside of desert areas. Once the dew point gets into the 50’s (relative humidity over about 30%) their cooling performance is severely impaired. Here in North America you’ll find evaporative coolers in the western and southwestern United States as well as in the northern part of Mexico. They are also used in the southern part of Australia.

Even some people who live desert cities have not seen one, or at least wouldn’t recognize one if they did. And others wouldn’t be caught dead using one. I think that’s mostly due to the stigma carried by evaporative coolers as a cooling means of last resort only for the poor who can’t afford “real” air conditioning. While they certainly are inexpensive to buy and install as well as being economical to operate, I don’t understand why that should make them undesirable. I have actually seen ads for RV and mobile home space rentals that state “No evaporative coolers allowed.” So apparently the humble swamp cooler is shunned even within communities that are already considered “downscale” by much of society. It’s a shame so many people are more concerned with appearances and perceived social status than they are about economy, comfort, and environmental impact.

Freshly Pressed

I had an unexpected but pleasant surprise this past Tuesday when  one of my posts was selected to be “Freshly Pressed” — featured on the WordPress.com home page.  That was quite an honor, and the exposure drove quite a bit of fresh traffic to the site resulting in some new subscribers, too. I’d like to welcome my new readers and remind all of my readers that comments are always open on all my posts, so feel free to surf the archives and share your thoughts.

Mixing Bowl Solar Tea

Summer in the desert. Warm 113-degree temperatures. Phoenix just broke a record yesterday  – 29 days (so far) this year with a temperature of 110 degrees or more (the “normal” is 10 days per year).  When it’s this hot, it’s important to stay well hydrated, and iced tea is a good refreshing beverage. 

 Those of you in the southwest and possibly elsewhere make or have at least heard of “sun tea” – fill a large glass jar with water, add teabags, and set out in the sun for a few hours to brew.  The slower, lower-temperature infusion makes a very smooth brew.  In addition, it’s solar powered – no fuel or electricity is expended boiling water (and heating the kitchen, fighting the air conditioning). 

Well, I wanted to make some sun tea today, but didn’t have a suitable jar handy.  I do, however, have a nice shiny stainless steel mixing bowl.  How did that come to mind?  Well, recently I’d left it outside with a plastic measuring cup inside, and the bowl focused the sunlight intensely enough to melt the measuring cup. I thought if it got hot enough to do that, then maybe it would work well for sun tea, and possibly faster than a glass jar do to the fact that the reflective bowl will concentrate the heat in the tea.  There’s only one way to find out – TRY IT!

So, I filled the bowl with water, added four regular size teabags, covered with plastic wrap (to keep bugs out and keep the heat in) and set the bowl out in the sun. 

After a couple hours in the sun, the brew was quite warm and looked to be the right color.  I added a cup of sugar and a couple trays of ice cubes (in a bigger container, of course) and had some delightful iced tea!  Oh – the tea I used was Twinings “Lemon Scented Tea” – Gives the drink a definite lemon flavor, but much more smooth and subtle than when adding lemon juice to regular tea.  I have some Twinings Black Currant and some Hedley’s Peach-Apricot that I can’t wait to make mixing-bowl tea with now!

Long overdue writing :)

It sure has been a while, no?  Right now, I’m in Tonopah, Arizona. That’s about 50 miles west of Phoenix. Some of you may be thinking “If your house has wheels, why would you stay in the desert for the summer?”  Well… that’s a good question.  I suppose I could say that I’m used to it because I’ve already spent 30 summers in the Arizona desert, and it would be true. Anyway, I kinda have to stay here for medical reasons. Remember a while back I said I might have ended up truly homeless, or “camping” at an urban Wal*Mart?  Well, that really could have happened. Luckily, I’d already been planning for the “RV Lifestyle”, had acquired my rig, and started fixing it up, etc. But really I was so close to being homeless and in the streets.  Unfortunately some unplanned medical issues came up, leaving me unable to support myself for some time. That’s the “could have been homeless” part. While things are improving, I still need doctors and treatments frequently enough that I have to stay relatively close to “the big city” to deal with those issues. Eventually when my medical concerns are more stable, I hope to be able to venture farther away from “home” for longer periods.  We’ll see – for now I’ll do what I am able. 

  Anyhow, on to more pleasant thoughts…. Been doing some good stuff lately. I’m planning to go to Williams AZ for the Hamfest (convention for Amateur Radio enthusiasts), and in anticipation I’ve been trying to get my ham station and my solar power all set up and doing what I want.

Of course I’m learning that no matter how good it looks on paper, some stuff is just worthless in practice. A lot of stuff I thought I’d need is gonna be sold at the hamfest or donated to the thrift store. And there’s other stuff I wish I had.

 But all in all, life is good, and could be a lot worse. Right now I’m a caretaker for a private property. I keep a general eye on things, manage the irrigation, and perform occasional repairs and maintenance. In return I get a place to park including water and electricity. The owners are are great, and a  BIG bonus is that the property is “clothing optional” so the only time I have to think about wearing clothes it once in a while when the inevitable shopping trip into town is needed. It’s hard to put a price on not having to wear clothes 🙂 When I took this gig, I was mostly interested in being able to stay reasonably close to Phoenix, and the nude thing was just a cool perk. But now after spendng a while here I think I’m getting spoiled. “Nude Friendly” may be a requirement for my next situation.