Getting Myself Into Hot Water

Some days ago I suddenly lost hot water. I turned the hot water faucet on and nothing happened. I don’t mean that there was water but it wasn’t hot. I mean that nothing happened. No water at all.

After indulging in a moment of WTF, I did a bit of troubleshooting. Is it the faucet? Nope, it’s the same at all of the hot water faucets, yet all of the cold taps work. So, the problem is somewhere in the hot water supply, after it separates from the cold water input. That happens at the water heater. (An aside, I really, really, really hate when people say “hot water heater”. You don’t heat hot water. You heat cold water to make it hot.)

Either there is no water coming out of the water heater, or there is a block in the line after the water heater but before it splits to feed the various sinks. That split is actually right after the hot water exits the water heater, where there is a split with one side feeding the kitchen sink and another going to the rear of the AdventureMobile to feed the bathroom sinks and shower.

The back side of the water heater. It looks really busy but if we study it for a minute it starts to make sense.
– First, you can see that there are two openings into the water heater tank. The bottom one is where cold water goes into the tank. The top one is where hot water comes out. Hot water rises so the hottest water is at the top.
– Those two black hoses come from and return to the engine cooling system. While driving down the road hot water circulates from the engine and passes through that little heat exchanger where it warms the water in the tank, so I have hot water for washing my hands and such while traveling. My ex even tried taking a shower while we were going down the road once.
– That vertical piece of pex in the center is the water heater bypass. You can see the handle for the ball valve where it joins the cold water feed at the bottom. There is no ball valve at the top because there is a check valve screwed into the hot water outlet to prevent water flowing into the water heater. Water can only flow out. Unfortunately, I didn’t know this when this all started.

In an RV, there is a way to isolate and bypass the water heater. This is mainly used when winterizing the water system for storage. So I turned the bypass valve and sure enough, I had cold water at all the hot water taps. This confirmed that the issue was at the water heater. The only thing I could think of is that somehow the outlet of the water heater was being blocked with sediment.

Now folks with experience dealing with RV water systems are all screaming at their computer screens right now. “No! No! It’s the…” But at the time, that’s all I could think of.

So I shut off the water heater, let it cool down, and went outside where I removed the plug and flushed the water heater out. And I did indeed remove a lot of sediment. A surprising amount of sediment, since I had last flushed it last summer. And sure enough, once I reinstalled the plug and refilled the water heater, I had water at all of the hot water faucets. Pleased with myself for this demonstration of troubleshooting prowess and repair abilities, I went about my day.

Some of the sediment I flushed from the water heater

But of course that wasn’t the end of it. A few days later I turned the hot water on to fill the sink to do dishes and… nothing! Really? Another WTF moment. I heated water on the stove to do the dishes, and while doing that chore I thought about what was going on. There is a ball valve to divert the cold water going into the water heater to go around it instead, but there is no ball valve on the output from the water heater. Well, there has to be something to prevent water from simply filling the water heater from the outlet, so there must be a check valve.

After finishing the dishes I did quick search on irv2.com — a great resource for RVers — and sure enough there is a check valve, aka a back-flow preventer, on the output of the water heater, and these valves are apparently a frequent failure point. By this time the hot water was working again, so obviously this check valve is sticking sometimes and working other times. I ordered 2 new valves from Amazon, since it’s always good to have a spare, and they’re cheap.

The next day I got to work. After shutting off the water heater and letting it cool, again I went outside and removed the drain plug to drain the water heater. Then I removed the fitting that attaches the pex to the water heater output, and that left me facing the check valve. This is the part I was worried about, as I had read several tales of these being really difficult to break loose. Somebody even said they broke one trying to remove it and had to pull the entire water heater out in order to work on it and remove the broken piece. But I was lucky. I put a long wrench on it and gave it a couple of good tugs and it broke loose. Soon I had it out. And then I had my first set-back. The replacement valves I had ordered were male/female thread, and the one I had just removed was male/male. Oh crap!

My replacement valve is threaded wrong

The water in the RV was completely shut off, so I needed a solution. So I looked at the valve I had just removed. Sticking my finger inside, the little plastic valve popped right out and left me with a straight through piece. Sorted!

So, I put some teflon tape on the threads and reinstalled the old valve, reconnected the water line, reinstalled the outside drain plug, and refilled the water heater. After checking for leaks, I buttoned everything back up.

I’ve ordered the correct replacement valve and at some point I’ll have to do the job again to have a correctly functioning check valve in place, but for now it’s all working and I once again have hot water.

Roadside Assistance, Mexican Style

Yesterday, on our way from San Juan Teotihuacan to Patzcuaro, we made a gas stop as usual. Not so much as usual, when I had finished fueling and hopped back in the AdventureMobile and tried to start her up, nothing happened.

Fortunately I’m not traveling alone and so the collective wisdom of the group, including a couple of decent shade tree mechanics, was brought to bear. After some futzing with this and that it was determined that the starter was the likely culprit.

Now if I were in the States and this happened, I would call my roadside assistance plan and spend a few minutes filling them in on the problem and my location, and then they’d go off and start calling service providers and in a few minutes, or maybe more, they’d call me back and tell me they had arranged with so-and-so to come to me and give me an estimated time which might be a couple of hours or might be many hours. And when they came they’d do a cursory check and agree that yes, the starter was likely dead. And then they’d tow me to a garage somewhere, and hopefully one that could and would actually work on a motorhome, and that day or maybe the next they’d look at it and determine that I needed a new starter, and maybe they’d have to order said starter before they could install it. So all of this could easily take a couple of days and cost a fair bit of money, even though the tow would be covered by my roadside assistance plan.

But we weren’t in the states; we were in Mexico. And I was really lucky. Firstly, I was lucky that one of the members of our caravan speaks Spanish fluently. That’s an immense help when things go awry and we need to communicate to find a solution. And secondly, I was really lucky that there was a taller mecánico (a mechanic) located just across the road from the gas station.

While I was settling up with the gas station attendant, our wagon master Michel and G Ron our Spanish speaking caravan member walked across the street and talked to the mechanic and he agreed to come over and take a look. He did say, though, that we had to move the motorhome away from the gas pumps as he wouldn’t work on electrical issues with it parked there, so we pushed her out of the way.

A few minutes later the mechanic showed up carrying a small tool bag, and through our volunteer interpreter G Ron we discussed the symptoms, he listened to the starter, and agreed that indeed that was the culprit. Then he crawled under the AdventureMobile in the dust and removed the starter, then took it back across the road to his shop to disassemble it and figure out what was wrong.

Pulling The Starter

A while later we walked over to his shop to check on the progress and he was just finishing up reassembling the starter after putting on a new solenoid and lubricating everything.

The Shop
The Taller Mecánico With My Newly Rebuilt Starter

It took the mechanic only a few minutes to reinstall the starter, and then it was time to put it to the test. I hopped behind the wheel and turned the key, and she started right up.

From beginning to end the repair took about an hour and a half. I was charged $1300 pesos for the parts and labor, which is about $65 USD. I tipped the mechanic an extra $200 pesos, so my total cost was about $75 USD. $75 and an hour and a half and I was back on the road. Awesome!

Adventures in RV Driving

One of the RV parks we stayed at is the San Juan de Lago RV Park. In order to get there you need to drive through the village of San Juan Benito Juarez, and then once you’ve reached the gate of the RV Park property you have to climb a ridiculously steep hill. I grabbed the footage from my dash-cam and put it on YouTube to share with you all. Yes, the video is rather long, but I think you’ll find it interesting. I left it in real-time except for a few spots where I sat still for a few minutes, and I cut those out.

Mexico at Random

Here are some not-so-random facts:

– I have never traveled with an RV caravan before
– I have never traveled in Mexico before, other than walking across the border to Los Algodones to visit my dentist
– I am a hardcore introvert with a fair bit of social anxiety. A classic misanthrope

These things all being true, I didn’t have much of an idea what it would be like traveling in a new country with a rather large group of people I didn’t know, other than “interesting”. I was rather sure it would be interesting, and I was right.

While it’s all still new to me and fresh in my mind, I think I should write about a few random topics. These are in no particular order as I’m simply writing about things as they come into my head.

I was really concerned I wouldn’t be able to function as part of the group. I can easily be overwhelmed by social interaction. I remember attending the Xscapers Convergence in Quartzsite in January of 2018 and being so overwhelmed I had to spend 10 days alone out in the desert at Mohave National Preserve to recover. Fortunately I haven’t had that experience here. The people in the group are all friendly and easy to talk with, but not pushy. At the end of a day of sightseeing I am often really tired from the social aspect of it, but a few hours of alone time in the evening allows me to process everything and get back to normal.

I am really glad I wasn’t crossing the border by myself. I found the whole process of getting the FMM, the Forma Migratoria Múltiple, aka my “tourist card”, and the TIP, or Temporary Import Permit for the motorhome, very confusing. All of the officials at the border crossing were friendly and helpful enough, but my Spanish doesn’t go much further than “hola” and “no comprendo”, so without someone there to tell me where to go and what to do, the whole experience would have been a nightmare.

The roads haven’t been a surprise, since I had read plenty about how bad some of the roads are, about all the topes (speed bumps), that one should use the toll roads rather than the Libres, and about driving half on the shoulder. But all of that still took a bit of getting used to. The toll roads seem to have a lot of toll booths. At one of the first toll booths we went through I went to the right-most lane, and that turned out to be for Carga (Cargo, or trucks) only, and didn’t go back onto the highway. The toll collector was trying really hard to make me understand what I had done wrong, but I couldn’t understand him. Finally I realized I needed to back out of the toll, and a couple of official guys stopped traffic behind me so I could back out and move over to the proper toll lane.

Most things in Mexico are less expensive than in the US, but gas isn’t one of them. Gas runs in the area of $4 USD per gallon. You don’t pump your own gas in Mexico; there are attendants. These attendants don’t get paid a wage, they work strictly for tips. Depending on how much gas I’m buying, and thus how much of the attendant’s time I take, I tip them 20 or 30 pesos.

When you eat in a restaurant there is no pressure to leave as soon as you’re done eating, you are expected to linger and chat and sip your drinks for as long as you like. The waiter or waitress will not bring you the check until you ask for it.

There are a lot of topes (speed bumps) on the road. They come in all kinds of profiles, and some of them are absolutely insane! I’ve actually kind of gotten hung-up getting the rear wheels over them and had to back up a bit and have another go.

Umm, I’m sure there are other things I should mention, but I can’t think of them at the moment. This will do for now.

South Of The Border

A month from today, if all goes as planned, I will be crossing the border from Mission, Texas to Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Mexico.

I don’t remember exactly when I came up with the idea of spending part of the winter in Mexico. It was a number of months ago. At first I thought I might just go down to Baja for a couple of weeks. A lot of RVers do that, and the Mexican government makes it especially easy to do as they waive some of the paperwork requirements so long as you don’t continue farther into Mexico.

But then I decided no, I really want to get a more comprehensive overview of the country, so I decided to join a commercial caravan and see as much of Mexico as I could. The idea is to get an overview of the country, learn the practical ins and outs of traveling there, and see if there are regions or specific places I might like to return to in the future.

After some research, I settled on Caravanas De Mexico. Every other year they offer their Yucatan – All Mexico Loop which goes for 3 months and makes a circuit of the whole country, and since they are offering that loop for 2020, I signed up.

Planned route of the Yucatan – All Mexico Loop

The specific group I will be traveling with will consist of 13 rigs including the leaders. There will be 8 couples and 5 solos, for a total of 21 people. I’m very happy I won’t be the only solo, as I feared that would be awkward.

Since both RVing in Mexico and RVing with a group will be new experiences for me, I expect that I will be blogging more frequently during the trip. I am looking forward to seeing what it’s like and sharing it all with you.

Summertime, And The Living Is… Easy?

This time last year, when I was in Louisiana at Black Bayou Lake and looking ahead to the summer of 2019, my plan was to work and earn some money. In fact, my plan was to again work as a camphost for the same company I worked for last summer, but in a different location.

Then I saw something online about an upcoming WIN circuit that would travel across the country stopping to ride various bike trails, and that caught my imagination. I rather instantly decided that that was how I would spend the summer, and dropped my plan to work. This whole spontaneous plan making thing is new for me; it’s never been part of my personality, and I think is a facet of this mobile RV life that has most surprised me.

Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park

But even that simple plan didn’t work out quite as expected. I had to be back in East Texas in early February to see my doctor and my ophthalmologist, and then I was going to head west to Quartzsite to finish the electrical upgrades I had started the year before by having a larger inverter installed and the inside wiring modified. And while I was there I also made a quick detour south so I could cross the border into Los Algodones and see my dentist.

The plan after this was to start heading east and meet up with the WIN group in April at the start of the circuit down in the southeast. But instead I had to be back in Livingston at the beginning of April to deal with some more medical stuff, and then, happily, Aoife had a chance to fly in for a week and we decided to explore New Mexico, so when I left Livingston I headed for Albuquerque where Aoife was flying into. Long story short, I didn’t catch up to the WINS until May 1 in Jefferson City, Missouri.

But wait, there’s more! When Aoife and I arrived at Bandelier NM and I put the slides out, the full wall slide made some unpleasant noises. I think I put the slide out one or two more times after this, and the noise got worse and worse, so by the time I had arrived in Jefferson City I was leaving the full wall slide in. Living with it in got old really fast, and after a week or so with the WINS in Jefferson City, I left the group and headed up to the Winnebago Factory Service Center in Iowa to get the slide dealt with and to have them check out an issue I’d been having with the hydraulic leveling jacks.

It takes months to get a service appointment with Winnebago, so instead I showed up without an appointment and was a “walk in” service customer. This means they worked on my rig as time allowed, so it took several weeks to get things taken care of. By the time I caught up with the WINS again, in South Dakota, it was the end of May. I stayed with the WIN circuit as we explored the Black Hills of South Dakota and then on to Grand Teton National Park, in the middle of June.

In Grand Teton the cycling circuit met up with another circuit spending the summer touring the northwest. The combined circuit was big, far too many people for me to comfortably deal with, so it was time for me to head out on my own again. Since it was only the middle of June I decided I would spend the rest of the summer touring some of the National Parks in the region, so I spent the next 3 weeks in Yellowstone, the movesd up to Glacier National Park for 12 days, then crossed into Canada to visit Banff for a week before coming back to the states and visiting Craters Of The Moon. From here I visited some state parks in Idaho, then headed west to visit North Cascades National Park.

Tuolumne Meadows from the summit of Lembert Dome, Yosemite National Park

This brought me to Labor Day, and not having made reservations 6 months in advance, there was no way I was going to get into any park anywhere so I sat out the weekend in a casino parking lot just outside of Olympic National Park. After the holiday crush I moved to another boondocking spot while I checked out Olympic NP, then made my way toward Crater Lake and another free spot for a week.

In mid-September Aoife had another vacation week. Whenever she comes for a visit the conversation always turns on where she should fly into. This time I said “fly into San Francisco and we’ll go visit Yosemite!” Now the Bay Area is an expensive place, and RV park prices hover around $100 per night. Not being a fan of RV parks or of paying that much money, I managed to find a county park in San Mateo, Coyote Point Recreation Area, that had 4 RV sites along the edge of a parking lot on San Francisco Bay, and only a 15 minute drive from the airport!

We made a day trip from here down to Monterey, and explored a couple of beaches along the coast on the drive home, then the next day we headed east and up to a Thousand Trails park just outside the west gate of Yosemite. Yosemite is amazing and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves until it was time to get Aoife back to San Jose to catch her flight home.

This left me with just over a week before I had to be in Death Valley for the start of my time here as a volunteer camphost, so I headed to Lone Pine to hang out and explore that area.

So that was a long recounting of “I went here and then I went there.” What’s my point? What is to be concluded from all this?

One one hand, I’m glad I did what I did this summer. These northern parks aren’t places I would go with my RV in the winter, so the only reasonable time to visit is in the summer. And I had a wonderful time and have memories of some amazing hikes.

So am I going to do something similar next summer? Nope. I’m going to find a seasonal job and settle in to one place and earn some money and avoid the summer crush of RV travelers. There are far too many RVs on the road in the summer. Everything is crowded and it’s hard to find places to stay. I experienced some epic traffic jams in Yellowstone, on the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier, and I shudder at the memory of trying to get to Lake Louise in Banff (I went back the next day, before dawn). I enjoyed some amazing hikes in the parks, but in order to do so I was getting up at 3 or 4 AM to get to the trail-head at daybreak to beat the crowds.

It’s okay to go on vacation in the summer, where you’ve planned everything out months ahead of time and made reservations, but that’s — maybe surprisingly to those who know me — not the way I travel. The bottom line is that winging it in the summer is rather a hassle.

What A Bargain! A Year Of Parks

For the last several years I’ve pretty much always had what is often referred to as a National Parks Pass or an Annual Pass. The government being the government, of course, they have a rather unwieldy name for it: America The Beautiful The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass.

But whatever you call it, it’s a bargain! For $80, it covers the entrance fee to any federal recreation lands. National Parks and Monuments. National Forest and National Grasslands fee areas. COE. BLM. And I’m sure there are some I’m not thinking of at the moment.

I bought my current pass in October of 2018. After spending the first half of October in Connecticut I was heading south down the east coast and decided to spend a few days in Shenandoah National Park. The pass I had at the time had expired over the summer, so when I entered the park I purchased a new one.

This afternoon I went back through my calendar and tried to note all of the parks I’ve visited since that purchase, along with a couple I expect to visit in the next few weeks. Here’s the list, in chronological order:

  • Shenandoah National Park
  • Mammoth Cave National Park
  • Gulf Islands National Seashore
  • Petroglyph National Monument
  • Valley of Fires National Recreation Area
  • White Sands National Monument
  • Carlsbad Caverns National Park
  • Bandelier National Monument
  • Mount Rushmore National Memorial
  • Grand Teton National Park
  • Yellowstone National Park
  • Glacier National Park
  • Craters Of The Moon National Monument
  • North Cascades National Park
  • Olympic National Park
  • Crater Lake National Park
  • Lassen Volcanic National Park
  • Yosemite National Park
  • Manzanar National Historic Site
  • Death Valley National Park

Not bad for $80!

Working Amazon

Getting mail on the road is rather straightforward. I pay a yearly fee for the Escapees mail forwarding service. That gets me a permanent address in Livingston, Texas, which is also my legal domicile. Whenever I want them to forward my mail I go online and let them know where to send it, and they bundle up whatever mail has accumulated and send it off to me.

But packages are a whole other thing. I could have them sent to Livingston, but then I’d have to pay the postage to have them forwarded to me wherever I am. That would get expensive fast. And there would also be the time delay to deal with.

I buy a lot of things from Amazon. It’s pretty amazing the wide variety of specialized things you can get at Amazon that you just can’t get in your average small town. The Nitrile gloves I wear when dumping the holding tanks, size XL, are just a bit over $10 for a box of 100 at Amazon. The closest I’ve found when I’ve run out in a small town hardware store is a package of one-size-fits-all painters disposable gloves that tore like tissue and cost 4 times as much per glove. LED light bulbs. Replacement propane detector. Low-flow shower faucet. Refill kit for 16 oz. propane canisters. Replacement valves for my RV-specific shower controls. Boeshield T-9, which I use on pretty much everything, including the cylinders for the automatic leveling jacks. I’ve bought all of these and dozens more things from Amazon.

But it’s not always easy actually receiving packages from Amazon. You do not get to choose the carrier when you order from Amazon. If that were possible, I could simply choose USPS, the good old postal service, and have my packages sent to the closest post office that accepts General Delivery.

There are a few things I’ve learned through trial and error. Amazon’s system does understand what a PO Box is, and if you specify a PO Box as your shipping address, the system will automatically recalculate your shipping times knowing it must be delivered to a post office. Basically, your order will either be shipped via USPS (rarely) or via UPS SurePost, where UPS handles the bulk of the transportation but hands the package over to USPS for final delivery.

But even here there is a catch. Some items simply aren’t eligible to be delivered to a PO Box and if you enter one as your delivery address the system will tell you that you must choose a different address.

How did I learn all this? I had a PO Box in Meeker, Colorado for the four months I was working at North Fork Campground last summer.

As sophisticated as Amazon’s system is, it does not understand that a General Delivery address must also be delivered to a post office. The first time I ordered something with a General Delivery address I was surprised to see that it shipped via UPS Ground. Eventually I saw in the tracking that it had a Delivery Exception error and it was held at the local UPS office, so I went there and collected it. That strategy works okay, mostly. I tried that when I was in Anza Borrego in February of 2018, and Amazon shipped it via one of their contracted delivery services that they are using more and more. They simply said they couldn’t deliver it and sent it back to Amazon.

I’ve tried various things, and I’ve discovered that I can address a package to PO Box GENERAL DELIVERY, and the “PO Box” will trigger Amazon’s system to understand it is going to a post office and it will assign the carrier appropriately, while the humans that handle the package at the post office will understand “GENERAL DELIVERY.”

But still, things don’t always work. When I was in Glacier National Park I placed an order with Amazon to be delivered to me at:
Allen Freeman
PO Box GENERAL DELIVERY
West Glacier, MT 59936-9999

Amazon split this order into three shipments, and all three were sent via UPS SurePost. Only one of them ever made it to the post office in West Glacier. The other two were held up at the UPS facility in Kalispell and eventually sent back to Amazon. Neither Amazon nor UPS could explain why that happened, but it did.

And then sometimes I run into that issue where the thing I’ve ordered is one of the things Amazon won’t ship to a post office. That happened this last week, so the shipping address I used was GENERAL DELIVERY to the post office here in Glenns Ferry. I had 4 packages coming to GENERAL DELIVERY; 1 non-Amazon package was sent via USPS, another non-Amazon package was sent via FedEx, and the two Amazon packages were sent via UPS Ground.

I expected the UPS packages to end up at the UPS facility in Mountain Home, about a half hour drive from here, and I’d go get them. But when I went to the post office to collect the package sent via USPS. to my surprise the clerk told me I in fact had 4 packages waiting. UPS had delivered the packages to the post office, and the post office had accepted them!

Finally, I should point out that if I used commercial campgrounds more frequently I could avoid a lot of this hassle, as many campgrounds will accept packages for their guests. But I rarely stay in private campgrounds so that solution isn’t available to me.

RVing the National Parks

As I write this I am sitting in the AdventureMobile parked in Apgar Campground in Glacier National Park. Over the last month or so I’ve spent 8 days in Grand Teton National Park, 3 weeks exploring Yellowstone, and now Glacier.

I know there are people who plan their trips a year in advance and make reservations for every stop. I don’t do that. My plans change frequently. At one point I was planning to work this summer and had a job lined up, then changed my mind and decided to spend the summer traveling with the WINs. Then that plan got delayed when I was stuck in Livingston dealing with some medical stuff. Once I finally caught up with the WINs in Missouri, I was with them for less than a week when I left to head up to Forest City, Iowa to get some things fixed at the Winnebago Factory Service Center.

Gros Vetre Campground, Grand Teton National Park

I finally got back with the WINs in South Dakota and stayed with them until Grand Teton. It wasn’t until Grand Teton that I realized Yellowstone is just up the road and decided to go there.

So, how do you get a site in one of the most iconic and heavily visited National Parks, in the summer, without a reservation?

The first thing to know is that most National Park campgrounds do not take reservations, they are first come, first served. For example, there are 13 campgrounds in Glacier National Park. Two of those campgrounds are 100% reservable, and in one other, half of the sites can be reserved. And those reservable sites are solidly booked right through the summer season. You could go online and get a night here or there, but that’s about it.

It is also important to know that NPS campgrounds are not RV parks! The typical National Park campground was designed for tenters. Sites are small, and typically there are no hookups. There may or may not be a dump station. Some do not allow RVs at all. Others only allow RVs up to a certain length; say 25 feet. Still others allow RVs but have only a limited number of sites which can accommodate larger rigs. So you have to do your research. Check the NPS website for information about the campgrounds in the park you want to visit. I also check campgroundreviews.com, as people often list specific sites and the size of their rig.

Mammoth Campground, Yellowstone National Park

The campground I am in now, Apgar Campground, has 194 sites but only 25 that can accommodate RVs “up to 40 feet.” And on some of those 25 sites, it will be next to impossible to get level.

With all those imitations, you might wonder why one would even bother with NPS campgrounds. The most important reason to me is that they put you living inside the park. You don’t have to go through the hassle of driving to the park each day and waiting in line at the entrance gate. You also get to enjoy the evening ranger programs, which are a really wonderful tradition in the National Parks. And finally, NPS campgrounds are not RV parks! I’m not a big fan of RV parks. I don’t enjoy being packed in like sardines, or sitting outside looking at my neighbors sewer hose. Oh, and one more: NPS campgrounds are a bargain! Apgar Campground costs $20 per night. I think I can remember paying fees ranging from $14 to about $23 per night.

So how do you get a site in one of these perpetually full National Park campgrounds? There are 2 cardinal rules: 1) Don’t arrive on a Friday or Saturday, and 2) Arrive early!

I left Yellowstone on Monday and drove north towards Glacier, arriving in the town of Columbia Falls mid-afternoon. I parked in the parking lot at the Super 1 Foods store, which allows RVs to park overnight. While there I restocked the pantry and settled in for the night.

Apgar Campground, Glacier National Park

I was up at 5:30 Tuesday morning, and by 6:30 I had unhooked the car and, leaving the motorhome parked there, was driving to Glacier. By 7:15 I was in Apgar Campground, cruising the loops looking for an empty site that I could maneuver the AdventureMobile into. It took a few laps of each of the loops, but by 8 o’clock I had found a site someone had just pulled out of that would work. I set up a couple of folding chairs I had brought with me to mark the site as taken, and filled out the self-registration form, paid the nightly fee, and clipped the receipt to the campsite post. It was a lot easier driving around and around the campground with just the car rather than my personal little road train of motorhome plus car.

Site secured, I drove back into town and hooked the car to the motorhome. While at the campground I had noticed that the dump station was quite tight, and also very busy. So I paid $5 to dump my tanks at the Conoco station in town, then drove back into the park to the campground. There was a long traffic delay due to chip sealing work going on, but since I had a site secured I could relax and not worry. Well before noon I was all set up in my site and sitting outside relaxing.

Holidays

Independence Day.

The Fabulous Fourth.

4th of July.

Whatever you call it, it’s coming next week. It’s a summer holiday, and it’s going to seem like the whole world decided to go camping.

My boondocking site in Island Park, ID
My boondocking site in Island Park, ID

I just finished 8 days boondocking in Island Park, Idaho, about 15 minutes from the West Entrance to Yellowstone National Park. This morning I got up at 4 AM and was outside hooking up the car as dawn broke so I could go dump and fill and make the drive up to Mammoth Campground just inside the North Entrance and get here early enough to get a site.

My site at Mammoth Campground

Mammoth is a first come/first serve campground so there are no reservations. When I got here I paid for two nights, as I still haven’t figured out how long I want to stay here.

Whenever I leave Yellowstone my plan is to head north toward Glacier National Park. With the holiday next week, I figure my options are:

  • Leave here on Thursday and find some place before the weekend.
  • Stay here through the weekend and leave on Monday and hopefully I’ll be able to find some place to stay through next week.
  • Stay here for the next couple of weeks and get through the 4th and the weekend following.

I’ve still not decided what I’m going to do, but I’m leaning towards the last option. The weather is finally warming up and there is certainly plenty to see and do in Yellowstone. But just in case I change my mind and decide to go with the second option, I think I’ll extend my stay here just until Monday for now.

Well, at least I remembered that there is a holiday coming up. Sometimes they catch me totally unawares. I know there are people that plan a year in advance and make their reservations, but I didn’t even know I was going to come to Yellowstone until I was at Grand Teton National Park with the WINs the week before last, and I didn’t figure out that I wanted to go to Glacier next until a few days ago.