For many years my family and I headed for the mountains when summer travel season arrived. We started with a tent and switched to a tent trailer. It was not a big one, but it got us off the ground. We tried a small house trailer, and then a truck camper. The truck camper was, for us, the best. It was compact, and allowed us to go into campsites that a car would fit. Best of all, we could get into the back country.
The places we liked best were hard to get at, and they were usually quiet, the sort of place where you could hear your own heart beating. There would be the distant call of bird, the click of a falling rock if we were in cliff country, or the rushing, gurgling sound of a stream somewhere down the mountain.
We didn’t know the term ‘boondocking’ then, but we were enjoying ourselves without shore power and communing with the best that nature could provide. In Jasper National Park we were roused by the chilling, eerie bugling of a huge bull elk. Not long afterward he marched, across the clearing below us. I say marched. With a massive rack, laden with spikes on his head, he was much too elegant for lesser words such as walked, or strode. On another trip there we were entertained in the evening by the mellow sounds of a real Alpenhorn played by a traveller from Switzerland.
In a campground in Crater Lake NP we heard campers banging on dishes. For those of you who never experienced this, it means, “Go away, bear”. He went away, from them, came to our canvas covered tent trailer, and climbed a tree by which we were parked. All night long, as he shifted position, bits of bark and limbs fell on the canvas, above my head. As I went out in the early morning to get a picture before he left, I found him already descending. Unconcerned, he walked away, down across the grass where a party of late coming campers had just laid their tent on the ground and slept on top of it. Mr. Bear walked slowly, and comfortably down that way, stepped carefully over the sleeping figures, and disappeared into the forest. It would have been interesting to watch one of the sleepers wake as the black, furry creature was just overhead.
We stayed a couple of times in a remote campground high in the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming. It was on a small island and the stream flowed around both sides. One side had a big marsh where we noted a family of moose feeding. They would eat, relax, and then walk across in front of the camp heading into the deeper woods. This was wildlife viewing at its best. The only problem was the fact that the outdoor biffy was across the campground and the moose path was in between. We thought we should put up a sign, ‘Watch for moose, before crossing’.
The last few years we’ve been wintering in Arizona where we’ve been enjoying several weeks of quiet camping, or boondocking. There are no services, but where we’ve been the desert can be very pretty, and definitely not just dry sand, like the Sahara Desert. In the winter the temperatures are moderate, and the sun shines a lot. We select a place as far away from other boondockers as possible.Evenings are pleasant around a small fire, and the stars look close enough to reach up and rearrange them. For a little practice golfing, just pick out a distant saguaro and head toward it. Turn back when you get tired. Around you, there are several different mountains, and as the sun changes its position in the sky the colours on the mountains fluctuate from dull brown to an astounding pink in the evening. If there have been clouds, the sunsets will be marvellous.
We are not totally alone in these areas as myriads of campers head for the boondocking areas. A big problem here can be the abundance of portable generators. Nothing says, ‘Noise’, like a portable generator, and that can spoil the solitude feeling in a hurry. There are some quiet Honda generators, but expensive, so a lot of campers use cheap generators, the sound akin to stopping near a truck stop.
Most campers are surprised just how fast their ‘full’ battery goes dead. When you consider how many things use electricity in our RVs, and how often we use them, then we should wonder how a battery lasts as long as it does. The fact is, even multiple batteries won’t stay charged forever, and it’s up to us to recharge them. If we are driving daily, most batteries are charging from the motor. If we are staying a while then it’s time to look at solar power.
Solar power is quiet, efficient and works without our involvement. A well thought out set-up will keep our lights on, and maybe even our TV, radio, bedroom fan, and water pump. Some even run their toaster, and coffee maker. When planning to go with solar panels one should calculate their power consumption. Most electrical appliances have the amperage and wattage marked on them. I would suggest using Samlex Solar’s solar sizing calculator. It’s very simple and at the end of your calculations you will know how many watts of solar panel you need.
Solar panels require a charge controller. These are much smarter than the old voltage regulator and will use pulse width modulated charging (PWM) to work out the most efficient way of filling the batteries. Old voltage regulators seldom finished the job and cut off charging too early to actually fill the batteries.
These smart controllers even attend to your batteries by using an equalization cycle that actively charges the batteries, causing the battery to bubble. This process stirs up the denser solution in the batteries helping them charge totally and renews the surfaces on the grids for better chemical reactions there.
Boondocking aids us in enjoying nature without crowds around us. Our use of solar panels removes some of the primitiveness of our camping. We seem to enjoy more creature comforts now, yet those days in the past, with an old gas lantern, are not easily forgotten. As long as we are out camping, it’s enjoyable.
For more than four decades James Stoness has travelled the roads of North America, photographing and writing about what he has seen. His travel articles and beautiful pictures have been published in several magazines and newspapers. He is also the author of five western novels. Visit his website at: www.stonesstravelguides.com
Link to Samlex Solar solar sizing calculator: http://samlexsolar.com/calculator/index.aspx