3:10 to Yuma

Yuma? Yes, Yuma bound. But first, back in South Dakota, I’d just become a resident by getting a driver’s license and registering the 5th wheel. No luck with the truck.

Near Rapid City, Custer State Park is a 71,000 acre wildlife preserve in the Black Hills and a great place to see herds of Buffalo.

I was lucky to visit when I did. Tragically, the Lake Fire in South Dakota has Custer State Park closed right now (December 2017) and nine of the burros have suffered burns in the blaze. The fire is now 100% contained.

On through Lake De Smet, Alcova, and Rock Springs in Wyoming, Duchesne and the disappointing Crystal Geyser in Utah, we arrived at Green River, UT – base camp (at a truck stop) to see Arches National Park. This should be on everyone’s bucket list (the Arches, not the truck stop).

On to Sevier, Utah where I was stuck in a snow storm for 2 days, then Las Vegas where about six miles away the largest mass shooting in US History happened during my stay. So, yeah. Of course there’s nothing that could have been done to prevent that – who could have imagined that someone buying scores of automatic weapons and thousands of rounds of ammo might want to use them. Really, he was an NRA hero, showing just how much you can accomplish when you buy a congress. We should get him a statue.

Hmm, I may have gotten off topic there.

OK, on to Needles, Quartzsite and finally Phoenix to end the Big Truck ClusterTr**k.

Finally 310 to Yuma

On the old RV I had a solar power system installed by Starlight Solar in Yuma and it’s just about time to do the same on the new RV. Just 310 miles to go – Phoenix to Gila Bend to Holtville CA to Yuma. Sort of a cinematic epic.

Starlight is only open from November 1st to May 1st each year, because, you know, who wants to work outside in Yuma the rest of the year. When I got the new RV I thought it wouldn’t be a big deal living without solar for 4 months or so, but really it was. I had a little generator, but having to run it every day, listening to the noise, smelling the fumes, running out for gas every other day, and having to run it to even charge up my laptop … well it really made me appreciate the solar power. Silent, clean, always there for anything I need short of air conditioning. When I pulled in on November 13th for installation I was almost giddy.

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[ Map of places visited is not shown on this browser ]

Driving in Circles

Yuma! No it’s not my favorite spot, but I’ve just made my fourth stop in Yuma in just over three months.

Solar System Issue

I first went to Yuma on 12/22 to talk with Starlight Solar Systems about installing a new system in the RV. I decided to go ahead with it, but the next available appointment wasn’t until 1/26. In the meantime I camped with the WINS (rvsingles.org) in Yuma, Parker and Quartzsite.

The second Yuma stop was for the big solar install on 1/26. The system was working perfectly and providing all the power I needed, but two weeks later the monitor/control panel inside the coach stopped working. I was still getting all the power I needed, but could no longer operate the system from inside and had no visibility to how well it was working (power production, battery charge levels, usage, etc.).

We spent a couple of weeks trying to diagnose this over the phone and email, then on 2/22 I went back to Yuma. They found that one of the components, the solar charge controller (Magnum PT-100, rated the best) was not talking to the inverter (they are ethernet connected) and blocking the inverter from talking to the remote. Starlight replaced the solar charge controller, everything worked fine and I headed back to Slab City.

Exactly four weeks later, on 3/21, while I was in Cottonwood, the same problem recurred. After another round of phone and email diagnosis I headed back to Yuma (from Flagstaff) on 4/4. Again, Starlight replaced the solar charge controller, everything is working fine. I’m on my way, just not real confident.

The Loop

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[ List of places visited is not shown on this browser ]

Here Comes the Sun

I’ve had my coach, Roamward Bound, for over three years now, but this by far is the largest upgrade.

After spending four of the last five weeks camping with the WINs (Wandering Individuals Network – RVSingles.org), first in Yuma, then in Quartzsite, I’m back in Yuma …

WINs Campfire at Quartzsite
WINs around the campfire at Quartzsite

Quartzsite Sunset
Quartzsite Sunset

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun, and I say it’s all right

… back in Yuma at Starlight Solar having a solar power system installed.

Roamward Bound getting 780 watts of solar power at Starlight Solar in Yuma, Arizona
Roamward Bound getting 780 watts of solar power at Starlight Solar in Yuma, Arizona

This will make dry camping / boondocking much more feasible. In theory I should almost never have to run the generator or worry about my electric use when I’m not on shore power. I’m going big with the project:

  • Magnum 3012 3Kw inverter
  • Magnum PT-100 Solar Charge Controller
  • Magnum Advanced Remote
  • Solar Charge Remote Display
  • 3 Solarworld 260 watt panels (780 watts total)
  • 400 Amp-Hours of GBS LiFeMnPO (lithium) batteries (5 kilowatt hours)

Lithium ion batteries are fairly rare in the RV world. Nearly everyone uses flooded lead acid deep cycle cells, with some opting for more expensive sealed AGM batteries, but lithium offers many advantages:

  • Lithium batteries are smaller and lighter.
  • Lithium batteries can be regularly discharged down to 20% of their rated capacity. Lead acid batteries should only be regularly discharged down to 80% and occasionally to 50%.
  • Heat tolerant. Lead acid batteries have only half the capacity at 95 degrees than they do at 77. Lithium has nearly the same capacity at 95 degrees.
  • Lithium takes 40% less time to charge. There’s no three phase charging cycle – they are always accepting a bulk charge.
  • Expected lifetime is 12-15 years.
  • No maintenance.

The only disadvantage is cost. The 400 amp hours of lithium batteries (equivelent to about 1200 AH of AGM batteries) alone cost over $2600.

While I’ve always wanted to, I’ve never had solar on any of my houses. The economics of putting solar electric in an RV are completely different than residential. For residential, the savings come from utility bills and can take up to 20 years to recoup the cost of the system. In an RV the savings come from campground fees ($20-$50 per night) and/or generator fuel ($2.50-$3.50 per hour to run my generator). I’m expecting to recoup the cost in 11-18 months.