This was our 2013 Jayco Flight Swift 198 RD


Saturday 28 November 2015

Last year's recap #8 Only in Texas - The $1.45/gal Gas Station

While I recap some of the highlights of our last year’s trip south, I cannot somehow capture the moment of excitement, joy or disappointments we experienced during our tour.  It’s different when I blog everyday and my frame of mind is transparent, but I try anyway.
Whereas the goal last year had been to escape our Canadian winter, I didn’t want to spend the whole time in one place. Although we liked Arizona a lot, the nights were colder than I had envisioned before our departure.  A bit of research combined with our love for the oceans and a promise of milder temperatures made us think of checking out the area of the Texas’ Gulf coast.  There are many RV parks in the vicinity of Harlingen, which indicates it is a popular destination and that was where we were heading.  Texas is a huge state and I wouldn’t mind to see more of it. The highways are in great shape and the 75mph/130km speed limit is an added bonus.  

For our Canadian friends: that's mph!

Our planned route took us through St. Antonio where we wanted to fill up with gasoline.  We use  GasBuddy to check who sells the cheapest fuel.  Even back here in Canada we use GasBuddy all the time.  If you use a device with GPS it tells you right away where all the nearest gas stations are and the current rate or, you can just enter the location, i.e. town or city where you think you will need fuel next.  We all know fuel is much cheaper in the USA than Canada, but we couldn’t believe the low price advertised at the HEB gas station in St. Antonio.  Sure enough, everybody in Texas must have seen the advertisement judging by the traffic leading to the plaza.  The lineup to the pumps wound around the whole parking lot of the HEB supermarket with more and more cars trying to squeeze in. To put it mildly, it was mayhem.  Just imagine our truck with travel trailer in tow blocking the bay. No way would we attempt to do that. To our luck we spotted an empty parking lot next to a bank under renovation on the other side of the street and that is where we parked, unhooked the trailer, put the jacks down and then drove over to get in line to participate in the frenzy.

US $1.45/gal - 38.5 cents/liter

An hour later, tank full including all jerry cans filled to the brim and a quick trip into the supermarket for a few items we were on our way again.  By this time it was late afternoon and we decided to keep on driving until we would be too tired to continue.  A rest area just before Corpus Christi looked good to us. It turned out to be an ok spot for the night.

The following day, a Friday, we pulled into the Palm Garden RV Park in Harlingen. It’s an older park right next to a highway overpass.  The occupants here were for the most part old-timers and called this place a home away from home.  Our intentions were not to stay for very long, rather to use this central spot for scouting out a RV park where we would settle down for some weeks.

Our spot in Harlingen

Saturday and Sunday we drove around armed with notes and coordinates of RV parks, spent a little time at the mall located around the corner and more time at the BassPro Shop also situated nearby.  I have to say, I fell in love with the area of Port Isabel, about a 45 minutes drive from Harlingen. The town is located on the western side of the south end of Laguna Madre, an estuary of the Gulf of Mexico.  At its very end of town we found the Port Isabel RV Park Center and a block away is the Queen Isabella Causeway, which takes you over to South Padre Island on the Gulf shore.  South Padre Island is a resort town and is apparently very popular at Spring break, so we were told.  But we liked what we saw and booked a spot by the water for a month starting the following Monday. 

Did I mention the Port Isabel RV Park is large?  It is a very sizeable park and just walking around the perimeter will provide you with a good exercise.  Before we left on the trip south we really didn’t have an idea what kind of parking spots we might encounter and because of that we had brought along our Parkit Power Dolly stored on the truck bed along with a lot of other things we had not found a use for yet like our  big 32 gallon poop tank, (portable waste tank on wheels) which we had no reason to unpack either, thank goodness!!  It had puzzled us why the spot right at the water was still free in such a tight packed RV park where space is at a premium.  Well, the reason the spot was free was no one had been able to get in because a flowerbed blocked two thirds of the driveway and you had to back in at an angle which would have both neighbors with their big rigs make them hold their breaths. I knew the dolly would come in handy someday which was now.  Singlehandedly and with ease Benno maneuvered our travel trailer, hooked up to the dolly (it pulls 9000 lbs.) into the parking spot overlooking the canal.  

View onto the canal

View from our back window in the trailer

All settled into our spot we got talking to our neighbors to the right when we discovered that they owned a full-grown Great Dane dog. Whoa, he was friendly but I didn’t know dogs could grow as big as a pony and I was sure glad they had a fence erected around their pad.  By the way it was mentioned that their previous Great Dane had passed away on a former trip to the RV Park and not knowing what to do with it, they took it along and buried it at the RV Park, but not before purchasing another Great Dane. Guess where they buried the dog?  Yep, the flowerbed!

Wednesday 25 November 2015

Last year's recap #7 A bit of U.S.A. History

The drive from the TT RV Park to our next destination of Texas took us along Hwy 80 to Hwy 9 via Columbus, New Mexico.  The road runs for a long stretch along the Mexican border, which we found to be almost deserted of traffic except for the occasional Border Protection Control vehicles patrolling especially along Hwy 9.  Somewhere down that stretch, about 39 miles past Douglas, we spotted a monument by the roadside. To us his seemed to be a good spot to stop for lunch and to stretch our legs.

I have copied the inscription of the plaque in case my picture is not readable.

 “Near here Geronimo, last Apache
Chieftain and Nachite with their
followers surrendered, on Sept.
6th 1886, to General Nelson A. Miles,
U.S. Army, Lieutenant Chas. B. Gatewood
with Kieta and Martine.
Apache scouts risked their lives to enter
the camp of the hostiles to present
terms of surrender offered to
them by General Miles.
After two days, Gatewood received the consent
of Geronimo and Nachite to surrender.
The surrender of Geronimo in Skeleton Canyon,
on that historic day, forever ended
Indian warfare in the United States.”

This Memorial erected A.D. 1934 by theCity of Douglas, with Federal C.W.A. Funds.

During the long drive that seemed to be endless, we discussed where we would park for the night.  Along the Mexican border would probably not be a good idea. Serious drug and illegal human smuggling is happening here. The buggers are extreme dangerous. We were considering to stop for the night at the U.S. Custom and Border Protection's lonely Camp Ramsey, but noticed they were barb wired and electric gate forted in. However, the city of Columbus NM, which is located on the intersection Hwy 9/11 offered a few possible sites for us to check out.  Right by the roadside we noticed a row of flags and a sign to a museum on a previous military campsite, now a State Park with RV and camping park on the park's property. Most of the buildings of the military installation have disappeared over the years, but the original fort’s guardhouse still stood with a visitor’s center, small museum and a few relics on the property.  
We parked and went inside where we found out that the timing of our arrival was near the closing time therefor cutting our museum’s visit a bit short by giving us only a half hour to tour the exhibitions.  However, I learnt a little bit of history:

Columbus came to fame March 9, 1916 when the United States was the last time invaded by a foreign army aka Pancho Villa’s raid on Columbus NM. Only a week later, about 10,000 troops arrived by train ordered there by the President Woodrow Wilson with General John Pershing for a “Punitive Expedition” into Mexico. This was “The Last Ride of the United States Calvary” on horses. Young George Patton, who was promoted while he was there to First Lieutenant, let a mechanized transportation and tank division.

The rest of the afternoon we spent to set-up our trailer and relaxed.

Tuesday 24 November 2015

Benno’s view about battery stuff

“Making a major improvement to the electrical household of our RV”
 I noticed when picking up the Jayco Jay Flight Swift 198RB travel trailer from the dealer in Smithville, Ontario last year, it had a brand new battery in a plastic box mounted on the trailer’s tongue (hitch fork). A closer inspection revealed a so-called wet cell Group 24 Starting and Deep Cycle Battery of 70 amp. As a perfectionist and techno maniac I came quickly to the conclusion this would not do it, this is Mickey Mouse.
A: This battery is, when it really boils down to the “Nitti Gritty” a mislabeled starting battery. What I need here is one or more 100% deep cycle batteries for slow discharge, while on battery power, watching TV and have lights burning all night long.
B: Maybe have enough 12-volt amps to power a decent size inverter for getting 120 volt without dragging the 120 V Honda generator to the outside to run a toaster or coffeemaker in the morning etc. while on a short stopover for a night.
C: Forget the old-fashioned wet cell batteries and go for AGM batteries instead.
D: Here is room for improvement, as well the chance of spending some serious money and the possibility of using my tools:))

 Wet cell battery

Why AGM batteries?
12 Volt wet cell batteries are the second oldest types of batteries in use, invented 1859 by a French physicist Gaston Plante and they consist at the present time of lead antimony plates submerged in sulfuric acid electrolyte, contained in a strong plastic housing with 6 cells (each providing 2 VDC) and vent caps on the top to let the generated gas escape when they are being charged. These caps permit the service expert during maintenance to add or replace the electrolyte, or for you to water the battery. The out the vent caps escaping gas is very corrosive, explosive and dangerous. A wet cell battery under the hood of a car gets plenty of air from underneath of the car during driving which helps to disperse the gas safely. Wet cell batteries inside of a RV should be mounted in a battery box with covers. The covers must have a provision for attaching a vent hose, which is guided to an outside vent to disperse the gas.
Does this sound simple to you? You have to water these wet cell batteries frequently, disperse of the dangerous gas and on top of this, you can totally discharge these batteries via long storage (they loose up to 20% capacity each month when dry stored). Lets say, the RV is stored 6 months without any means of charging; the batteries could be toast and you have to buy new batteries. Times have changed, now here in the year 2015 there are better choices for the RV and boat owner, much improved and safer batteries are on the market. The leader at this time for RVers and boaters is called AGM battery.

AGM battery

AGM battery stands for Absorbed Glass Mat. The electrolyte is absorbed into boron silica fiberglass mats, which are wrapped around specially ratio lead-calcium plates and hermetically sealed into the celled plastic housing. The technology was developed 1985 for the military fighter jet aircraft, but the first AGM cell batteries were patented by the Gates Rubber Corp. in 1972. AGM batteries can have flat or spiral form rolled lead-calcium plates. They are totally maintenance free, don't gas while being charged, can be mounted in any position and charged by any off the mill automotive charger. Of course this is not recommended. To charge this type of battery I would use a smart charger, a so-called 3-stage or 4-stage charger. These chargers will never cook your batteries. Cooking any battery is a mess and dangerous. Cooking is the term for overcharging with a manual or a faulty charger.
If you have a large solar panel array, a smart solar controller is a must. The same applies if you have a wind generator. AGM batteries can accept a charging rate of up to 40% maximum of the battery bank capacity (more than one battery hooked together to the same 12 volt circuit is called a battery bank). For instance: you have 3 AGM batteries, each 100 amp, you could use a 120 amp smart charger to charge your bank. AGMs are dual-purpose batteries and can serve as starter and deep cycle storage batteries. During long time storage AGM batteries loose only 2 to 3% a month of their charge, a very important factor for the seasonal RVer and boater. If, in case your AGM’s have somehow experienced a total discharge, they are not toast and throwaways like the discharged wet cell batteries. You can with a smart charger recharge AGMs to the full capacity.

Stay tuned for a follow-up of the actual installation.

Last year's recap #6 Going Underground

The area around the Tombstone Territories RV Park is called Cochise County. The city of Bisbee is the county seat and a lovely scenic drive of about ¾ of an hour takes you to this pretty tourist town, which is nestled high in the Mule Mountains.  Located at the southeast corner of Bisbee off Hwy 80 is the entrance to the Copper Queen Mine. A visit and tour of this old historic mine was on our agenda and I have added a few pictures I took while we were traipsing through a myriad of dark burrows so if you like to see some quality photos I’d suggest you click the link to the official  Queen's Mine While doing a little research on the Internet and reading about the history of the Copper Queen Mine on Wikipedia, I became quite fascinated with the story of "Wager Of A Lifetime" telling how George Warren, in a state of drunken stupor, gambled away his grubstake and a couple of years later, while taking a bet that he could outrun a horse, lost his remaining interest in the copper mine, which turned out to be in the millions of dollars.  He died penniless. 

The area attractions around the TT RV Park are a couple of pages long and depending on your likes of things to do, you could be busy for a month and not have seen them all.  Worthwhile mentioning I think is a visit to the Kartchner Caverns which are just around the corner from the RV park, about 9 miles down I-10.  These limestone caves let you marvel at calcite formations. There are stalactites dripping down looking like icicles, and giant stalagmites on the ground reaching up.  The caves a humid and warm, even in winter, so do not wear a wool sweater.  The tours are guided and NO photos of any kind were allowed. Sorry, I don’t have pictures.

However, later in the day we strolled again through Tombstone and this time we visited the Courthouse, where I was allowed to use my camera. The building is the authentic 1882 Victorian structure and is now a museum. On the upper floor is a reproduction of the courtroom with court proceedings from the 1880’s on monitors to watch.  In the courtyard a replica of the gallows was in the process of being built. 

Looking back at the couple of months we stayed at the TT RV Park, we have pleasant memories.  There were a ton of things to see and to do and if you are into hiking or have an ATV to bring along, beautiful trails await you. Every site is spacious and the majority of them have trees planted next to the picnic area.  We hung a couple of birdfeeders into the branches and at breakfast and suppertime we were rewarded with a feeding spectacle, which we really enjoyed. The RVers in the park were a great bunch but our goodbyes’ had to be made because we wanted to visit Texas next.