Category Archives: Travel Trailer Life

Free Camping in the National Forest

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US Forest Service logo sign

Last week when I shared my post about free camping near Quartzsite, Arizona, a lady in one of the Facebook groups I’m a member of mildly chastised me for not mentioning free camping in national forests. I explained that the post I had just shared was specifically about free camping in southern Arizona where there is no Forest Service land. She said when she started living nomadically she didn’t know about free camping in national forests, so she was trying to alert others to this public-land camping option. Fair enough. Oh her behalf, today I will share information about free camping in national forests for all the new nomads who don’t know it exists.

The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) is overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. According to the Forest Service, their mission is

To sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. 

brown metal sign reading Carson National Forest Information Visitors Welcome
Carson National Forest is in New Mexico.

Just how much public land is under the control of the USFS? What exactly is the USFS responsible for? According to the Free Campsites website the U.S. Forest Service

administers the 175 national forests and grasslands in the United States. They are responsible for regulating logging, grazing and mineral rights on these lands as well as maintaining roads, trails, campgrounds and law enforcement in the area. The forestry [sic] service offers many developed campgrounds as well as a large number of ‘official’ dispersed camping sites.

What exactly is dispersed camping? It’s also known as primitive camping, dry camping, and boondocking. The Fishlake National Forest webpage says,

Dispersed camping is the term used for camping anywhere in the National Forest OUTSIDE of a designated campground. Dispersed camping means no services; such as trash removal, and little or no facilities; such as tables and fire pits, are provided. Some popular dispersed camping areas may have toilets.

(If you’re new to boondocking, be sure to read my post “10 Fundamentals for Boondockers, which will help you through every stage of the boondocking process.”)

Smokey Bear stands next to a sign that reads Fire Danger Moderate Today! Prevent Wildfires
Smokey Bear is probably the most famous Forest Service Employee.

What I’d like to be able to do–what would be easier for me and you–is to give you some general rules for boondocking on Forest Service land, then direct you to a website with more details. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find such a website or any standard rules for dispersed camping on public land managed by the Forest Service. I searched the main Forest Service website and found nothing. This lack of centralized information was confirmed for me on the Barefoot Theory blog which says,

For information on camping on USFS locations across the country you have to check with each ranger district directly.

Apparently each national forest is managed as one or more ranger districts. Each district is managed differently according the challenges facing each area. An area with a lot of visitors might have more restrictions than a place were few folks go.

I looked at the information given about dispersed camping in five different National Forests. While the webpages for Fishlake, Coconino, and Deschutes National Forests gave explicit rules for dispersed camping in those places, practically no information was shared about the Sequoia and Carson National Forests. What’s a potential boondocker to do in order to learn about the rules and regulations in a particular area?

Dirt road leads between evergreen trees
Dispersed camping area in the Coconino National Forest near Flagstaff, Arizona

The best thing to do is call or visit the Forest Service office nearest to the area where you want to camp. The employees at the office can tell you everything you need to know to stay in compliance with any restrictions in the dispersed camping areas.

Maybe you’re so new at boondocking on Forest Service land you don’t even know what questions to ask. That’s ok. I’ll guide you in the right direction. The following are some questions to ask the person staffing the desk or the phone in the Forest Service office nearest to the area where you want to camp.

How long can I occupy a campsite? When I leave, how far away must I travel before I am allowed to set up a new camp? How long do I have to wait before I can once again occupy the original campsite?

How far away from the road must I camp? Do I have to stay within a certain distance of the road? How far should I camp from a water source? How far away must I camp from a developed recreation area?

May I have a campfire? Do I need a fire permit if I am going to have a campfire? Where can I get a fire permit? May I gather down and dead wood for my campfire?

Is there anything else I need to know about camping in your district of this national forest?

Brown wooden Lincoln National Forest sign with a roughly drawn Smokey Bear on it

Now you know there aren’t any hard and fast rules for camping in national forests, that each area has different regulations. All well and good, you might be thinking, but how do I go about finding Forest Service land to camp on in the first place? I’m glad you asked!

From the U.S. Forest Service home page, you can select a state, then choose a forest or grassland in that state to learn more about. You should be able to use such a search to find out what ranger district oversees the area where you want to camp.

Both Campendium and the Free Campsites website mentioned above list free camping spots in national forests. Campendium has a “National Forests” tab at the top of the page. By clicking on the tab, you get a menu of links to each state. Click on a state and you get a list of national forests in the state. Click on the name of the forest and you get a map showing the camping options in the area. On the Free Campsites main page, type the name of the national forest in which you would like to camp in the “enter a location” bar.

Forest Service outhouse with snow on the ground all around it
Free camping at the Big Tesuque Campground in the Santa Fe National Forest

If you have a smartphone and don’t mind investing in an app, the Ultimate Public Campgrounds app might be for you. For $3.99, this app helps you find “tens of thousands PUBLICLY-owned camping locations in the United States and Canada,” which of course would include dispersed camping on U.S. Forest Service land. (Shout out to the Barefoot Theory website article “The Ultimate Guide to Finding Free Campsites in the US” where I found information about this app.)

The Wand’rly website offers a very extensive article titled “Free Camping in the National Forests of the United States.” The article provides state-by-state national forest information and lots of links so you can learn more about different areas.

If you’re more the paper map type of person (and even if you’re not, read my post “In Praise of Paper Maps” to find out why I think you should go old school at least sometimes), you can use your atlas or state highway map to find national forests in the area where you are or to where you will travel. Public land is usually green on maps, and national forests will usually be labeled with the name.

waterfall
Nobe Young waterfall in the Sequoia National Forest.

Also check out the maps of individual national forests produced by National Geopgraphic. Those maps tend to be very complete and show forest service roads as well as local attractions.

The Forest Service itself also offers map options, both electronic and paper. First, check out the Interactive Visitor Map online. The USFS says the map

provides the public with an online view of Forest Service roads, trails, recreation sites, wilderness areas, and wild & scenic rivers. 

Also available is “A Guide To Your National Forests” a

free brochure showing locations of national forests and grasslands along with contact information. A large map of those regions (PDF, 14.3MB) is also available.

Because both maps are available as PDFs, you can print out a copies to view at home or take with you on the road.

The USFS also sells forest visitor maps, national forest atlases, and wilderness maps. These maps can be bought at National Forest Map Store, U.S. Geological Survey Store, many Forest Service offices.

Maps are also available for purchase as georeferenced PDFs on Avenza, for use on mobile devices.


Forest Visitor Maps for each national forest and grassland provide forest-wide information on attractions, facilities, services, and opportunities.


National Forest Atlases are full color atlases…available for many of the forests in California.


Wilderness Maps are topographic maps that show natural features such as mountains, valleys, plains, lakes, rivers, and vegetation using contour lines depicting elevation gain or loss.

Las Petacas Campground is a fee area, but it only cost $6 per night to camp there.

The Forest Service also provides topographic maps free as Geo-enabled PDFs and as paper copies available for purchase at some Forest Service officesU.S. Geological Survey Store, and some retail outlets.

Motor vehicle use maps are available from the Forest Service and are very important to National Forest boondockers. These are the maps that “identify those roads, trails, and areas designated for motor vehicle use.” These maps are available three ways

Once you arrive in the national forest of your choice, here are a few things to know as you drive around looking for a campsite, courtesy of the Deschutes National Forest.

If you are going to an area where others have camped before, pick a site that’s been used before… If there is no existing campsite, then follow these Leave No Trace guidelines:


Camp on bare soil if possible, to avoid damaging or killing plants and grass. Do NOT camp within 200 feet of any water source…Don’t camp in the middle of a clearing or meadow…Don’t try to level or dig trenches in the ground at your campsite.

Once you find your perfect spot for camping, follow these guidelines (also courtesy of the Deschutes National Forest) to minimize your impact on the natural environment.

Dispersed camping means no bathrooms and no outhouses…[so] extra care has to be taken in disposing of human waste. To dispose of feces, dig a hole 6 inches deep and AT LEAST 200 FEET AWAY FROM ANY WATER SOURCE (creeks, wetlands, springs, or lakes). When you’re done, fill the hole with the dirt you dug up and take your toilet paper with you to dispose of in a proper waste container.

Never defecate or leave toilet paper on top of the ground, it could easily get into the local water source and contaminate it.


Empty built-in or portable toilets at sanitary dump stations.

Wash your body, dishes, etc., and dispose of waste water AT LEAST 200 FEET AWAY FROM ANY WATER SOURCE. Do not use ANY soap directly in a water source. Use biodegradable soap.

If you need more information about how to handle life in woods, see my post “How to Stay Safe and Healthy in the Forest.”

campfire in metal fire ring

Most campers want to have a campfire while out in nature. If you are planning to enjoy a campfire, follow the rules shared by the Coconino National Forest.

[C]heck if you are in an area with campfire restrictions

Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires. Keep fires small. Only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand. Make sure to bring at least 6 gallons of water (preferably 10 gallons) and a shovel to completely extinguish your campfire. Burn all wood and coals to ash.

Extinguish campfires completely by generously dousing with water and stirring with a shovel. (video)


Never leave a campfire unattended. It is illegal to do so…You could be held liable for any firefighting/restoration costs that result from your abandoned or unattended campfire. Make certain your campfire is dead out, wet and cold to the touch, before leaving your campsite.

Now that you know the basics of dispersed camping in the national forest, get out there and give it a try. National forests belong to you and me and all of us, so enjoy them every chance you get.

A banner shows Smokey Bear waving. Text reads "I'm concerned about Wildfires" with an image of a fire and a tree.

The information in this post was correct at the time it was written. Please consider this information a starting point for your own research and not the final word on any subject. There are risks associated with camping, especially camping in areas off the beaten path. Blaize Sun is not responsible for you. Only you are responsible for you. Please think before you act.

I took the photos in this post.

Free Camping near Quartzsite, Arizona

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Two weeks ago, I wrote about the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Long-term Visitor Areas (LTVAs) located along the Colorado River in Arizona and California. La Posa (North and South, on either side of Highway 95) is the LTVA closest to Quartzsite, AZ. As I stated in the LTVA post, it costs $180 for a seasonal LTVA permit, good from September 15 to April 15. If you just want to stay at an LTVA for two weeks, you can get a permit for $40. (To learn a whole lot more about LTVAs, read my post about the Long-term Visitor Areas.)

Wait a minute!  you may have thought when you read the LTVA post. I heard there was free camping on BLM land near Quartzsite.

Well, you were right about that! There is free camping on BLM land all around Quartzsite. Sometimes people get confused because both LTVAs and free camping are on BLM land. The difference? After paying the permit fee, one can camp at an LTVA all season (or move among the LTVAs at no additional charge), while camping is allowed on the free spots for only 14 days within a 28 day period.

According to the Free Campsites website, free camping locations on BLM land in the immediate Quartzsite area are Plomosa Road, Hi Jolly, Dome Rock Mountain, Scaddan Wash and Road Runner. In addition, there are other free camping areas on BLM land within 20 miles of Quartzsite in Ehrenberg, AZ, as well as within 40 miles near Bouse and Parker, AZ. If you want to go a little further (about 75 miles), there’s also free camping on BLM land near Lake Havasu City, AZ.

Although there is no cost to camp on the BLM land near Quartzsite (other than La Posa North and South LTVA, of course), a permit is required. Getting the permit is no big deal. Each camping area has a camp host who issues permits. Simply stop at the camp host’s campsite and ask for your permit. The camp host may ask to see your driver’s license or ID. The camp host will write your name, address, and license plate number on the permit. You will get one copy to adhere to your windshield and the host will keep the other copies for the BLM’s records.

A BLM ranger might hassle someone camping on any of these free camping areas without a permit. I believe a ranger could even issue a ticket to someone camping without a permit, but I don’t know anyone this has happened to. But why risk? The permits are free and easy to obtain.

Once you get your permit, you are allowed to camp in the area for which the permit was written for up to 14 days. In the past, people have stayed on free BLM land near Quartzsite for much longer than two weeks, but in the last few years rangers have started cracking down on these long-term stays in the short-term camping areas. After two weeks, some people simply move to a different free camping area near Quartzsite and get a new permit, but technically, doing so is not permissible.

One can camp in for free on most BLM land that is not an LTVA for 14 days within a 28 day period at no cost. One can move 25 miles away and camp on BLM land for free (if allowed) for 14 days. One can return to the original camping spot on the 29th day since the first day of camping. A BLM website explains it in detail this way:

Dispersed camping is allowed on public land for a period not to exceed 14 days within a 28 consecutive day period. The 28 day period begins when a camper initially occupies a specific location on public lands. The 14 day limit may be reached either through a number of separate visits or through 14 days of continuous overnight occupation during the 28 day period. After the 14th day of occupation, the camper must move outside of a 25 mile radius of the previous location until the 29th day since the initial occupation.

(Camping rules for BLM land may vary according to the ranger district. Always check the camping rules for the particular BLM ranger district in which you want to camp.)

The free BLM camping areas near Quartzite are totally undeveloped. Like on most other BLM land in the Southwest, these public lands open to free camping require boondockers to provide for their every need. (If you don’t know the first thing about boondocking, see my post on the “10 Fundamentals for Boondockers“.) You may find a fire ring made of stones left behind by previous campers, but otherwise you are on your own. You will not find a trash can or dump station in any of the free BLM camping areas in this part of Arizona. Plan to pack out anything you pack in. Don’t look for picnic tables, pit toilets or electrical hookups because there are none. The lack of running water means you can forget about flush toilets or hot showers. (To find out where you can find a hot shower and other amenities see my post “Where to Go for What You Need in Quartzsite.”)

All sorts of folks camp in the free BLM camping areas in Quartzsite. I’ve seen plenty of RVers in motorhomes, travel trailers, and fifth wheels of all different sizes and conditions. There’s no shortage of vandwellers out there either, in everything from Roadtreks to minivans, converted cargo vans to old-school conversion vans. Skoolies make an appearance too, both full-size and short buses. Travelers stay there in truck campers, and I’ve witnessed literal car camping out there too. Some hardy souls brave the wind and chilly night to camp in tents.

Whatever one’s living situation, there are rules to follow while staying on the public land. Be quiet during quiet hours, typically 10pm to 6am. Comply with any fire ban and do NOT gather any native wood lying on the ground. (Hopefully I don’t have to tell you not to cut down or in any way damage plants growing on BLM land.) Keep your pets leashed and under your control. (This is for your pet’s safety, as coyotes in those parts have been known to snatch unattended dogs.)

If your rig does not have toilet facilities, it is allowable to dig “cat holes” for your elimination needs. According to the Tread Lightly! website,

Human waste should be disposed of in a shallow hole six to eight inches deep at least 200 feet from water sources, campsites or trails. Cover and disguise the hole with natural materials. It is recommended to pack out your toilet paper.

However, there’s hardly any privacy on the BLM land set aside for free camping near Quartzsite. You’re in the desert out there, not the forest, so it won’t be easy to find a tree to hide behind. You can set up a privacy tent, but be aware that the winter wind can be fierce out there. I recommend you set up some sort of elimination facility in your rig. (If you have never camped in the desert before, check out my post “10 Tips for Surviving and Thriving in the Desert” to get more advice on doing it right.)

If you don’t mind being a little farther away from Quartzsite, you have a couple of other options. According to the Free Campsites website, there is dispersed camping on BLM land on Gold Nugget Road east of Quartzsite. It doesn’t seem like a permit is required to stay there. You can also camp for free in the Crystal Hill area of the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, about 8 miles south of Quartzsite on Highway 95 at milepost 95. Camping there is limited to 14 days during any 12-month period.

What if you don’t want to camp on the public lands near Quartzsite? Do you have other options? The answer is yes!

There are two truck stops in Quartzsite, a Love’s and a Pilot. I have stayed overnight at both Quartzsite travel centers. One year after the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR) I wanted to stick around for a few more days for the PowWow gem and mineral show. I’d already reached my 14 day BLM limit, so I stayed in my van at the Love’s for a couple of nights with no problems. On another occasion I stayed in town using the internet to schedule blog posts until after sunset and didn’t want to try to find my campsite after dark. I spent that night in the Pilot parking lot, again with no trouble. I’ve seen plenty of other vans and truck campers parked overnight in those travel centers too.

So yes, it’s true, you can camp for free on BLM land near Quartzsite, but technically only for two weeks before you have to move down the road, at least for a little while.

I took the photos in this post.

Getting Your Travel Trailer Ready to Go

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Brown sign reading Rockhound State Park
Welcome to the Rockhound State Park campground!

Whether you’ve been staying in a campground or boondocking on public land, when it’s time to leave, you have to prepare your travel trailer for the journey. While getting the trailer ready is not a complicated procedure, there are steps that must be taken in preparation for your trip. Use these tips as a checklist to make sure you’ve done everything that needs doing before you hit the road.

#1 Lower everything on the roof. Bring down antennas. Close vents.

Hose connected to campground water spigot in background. Thick black electrical cord connected to campground electrical box in foreground.
Unhook water and electricity connections before you leave.

#2 If you’re at a campground, disconnect utilities. If you have a hose hooked up to the sewer, dump your black and grey water tanks one last time, then put away your sewer hose. Unplug your electrical connection and put away the cord. Unhook your water hose from the city water connection and from the trailer as well. Be sure the hose is drained and put it away.

#3 Retract your awning completely.

#4 Pull in all slides.

#5 Pick up and put away any equipment (rugs, chairs, tables, grills, tools, hoses, etc.) you have outside.

#6 Consider dumping contents of fresh water tank if water will be easy to replace at your destination. Especially if you are close to your maximum weight, you might want to travel without the extra pounds a tank full of water will add.

#7 Make sure stove and oven are turned off.

#8 Make sure all faucets are turned off.

#9 Make sure all interior and exterior lights are turned off.

#10 Make sure heater and air conditioner are turned off.

#11 Close windows.

#12 Latch interior cabinet doors and close drawers securely.

#13 Put away anything sitting on counter tops, tables, or floors. You don’t want any objects sliding, flying, or crashing while the trailer is in motion. We find storing larger items in the bathtub or on the bed keeps them secure during travel.

#14 After all chores are done inside and everyone has exited the trailer, close the exterior door(s) securely and lock up.

#15 Move steps to the travel position.

#16 Hitch trailer to tow vehicle. (If you need more information about hitching a trailer to a tow vehicle, read my post “Hitched.”)

#17 Connect stabilizers and install sway controller. Made sure all components are in their proper positions and all pins are installed.

#18 Plug in cord that controls trailer’s lights.

#19 Check inflation of trailer’s tires. Add air if necessary.

#20 Remove chocks from wheels.

Green camping chair sitting alone in the sunlight.
Don’t leave your chair behind. Do a walk-around before you go.

#21 Walk around rig and tow vehicle for a final inspection. Are any belongings outside the trailer? Are all utilities unhooked? Are all windows and vents closed? Is the awning retracted? Are all antennas down? Is the campfire dead out? Are steps secured for travel? Is campsite clean? Make sure everything is picked up, put away, closed, latched, and ready to go.

#22 Check lights on the back of trailer to make sure all are working properly. Check running lights, brake lights, right turn indicator, and left turn indicator.

There! You’ve done it! You’ve gotten your travel trailer ready for the road. You can start your trip confident that you’ve taken care of everything that needs to be done before you begin your journey.  For tips on general trip preparation and how to get your tow vehicle ready to go, see my post “10 Things to Do Before You Hit the Road.”

If you have RV experience, what tips can you offer for getting a travel trailer or fifth wheel ready for the road? Please leave a response in the comments below.

I took the photos in this post.

Black and Grey Water Tanks

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I thought emptying our travel trailer’s black and grey water tanks was going to be absolutely disgusting, but it’s turned out to be not such a terrible job. If you’ve had an RV for a while, you’re probably an old hand at emptying your tanks, but if you’re new to RV life, I may be able to offer you a few tips on how to do this task quickly and efficiently.

If you’re squeamish about bodily waste and gag at the thought of getting your hands dirty, wear gloves. You can pick up boxes of nitrile or vinyl gloves pretty cheap at Harbor Freight. The Wal-Mart pharmacy department and most drugstores carry latex gloves; Wal-Mart usually also has disposable gloves in the paint department. Of course, single use items have a negative environmental impact, so you can do your part for Mother Nature by wearing heavy duty, reusable kitchen gloves when you’re emptying your waste tanks. After you’ve done your dumping, store your gloves with your sewer hose so you can always find them when you need them.

Speaking of sewer hoses, longer is better. When we bought our sewer hose, The Man and I agreed 10 feet of hose would be plenty. If I had known then what I know now, I would have purchased a hose that was 15 or even 20 feet long. Our hose has never been too short, but we have had to stretch it to its limit to get it to the drain a couple of times. Sometimes it’s challenging to pull the trailer to within ten feet of a dump station drain. If we had a longer hose, The Man wouldn’t have to work quite so hard to get the trailer quite so close to where we need it to be.

While shopping for RV accessories, we saw the special, expensive RV/marine toilet paper that’s supposed to break down quickly. We contemplated buying the special toilet paper, but decided against it. We already bought the cheapest toilet paper any store offers, and The Man had read testimonies online from people who didn’t feel the need to use special toilet paper in their RV toilets. BIG MISTAKE! We ended up with toilet paper not breaking down and clogging our system. Now we do not put ANY toilet paper into our toilet. Used toilet paper gets put in a covered wastebasket next to the toilet. We line the wastebasket with a plastic bag, and when the bag is full it’s removed, tied shut, and disposed of with our other trash.

We still have not tried the special RV/marine toilet paper. After dealing with the clog, we decided not to take any more chances. From our lives as vandwellers, we were already accustomed to dealing with our own waste, so a little toilet paper in the garbage can doesn’t disgust us. Dealing with toilet paper in a garbage can is a LOT easier than dealing with a clogged black water system.

Our travel trailer has an indicator to tell us how full our black and grey water tanks are. At the touch of a button, lights indicate if our tanks are empty, ⅓ full, ⅔ full, or full. When we picked up our travel trailer, the indicator said the black water tank was ⅔ full. The fellow who serviced the trailer said he’d emptied the black water tank, but later we wondered if he’d forgotten to do so. He also told us that sometimes a piece of toilet paper stuck in the tank can trigger a sensor and tell you the tank has waste in it when it doesn’t. Because we didn’t want the extra weight of a full black water tank while traveling or the problems caused by petrified poop in the tank, we were determined to make sure the tank was empty. After using enzymes in the tank, adding 5+ gallons of water, and dumping three times within five days, our indicator finally showed the tank was empty. Yay!

However, after using the toilet only a few times, the indicator showed the tank was ⅔ full again. Weird and impossible! Coyote Sue (a veteran of a number of motorhomes and pull-behind trailers) told us that most people with older RVs don’t rely on the holding tank indicators, but instead develop an understanding of how long they can go between dumps. Coyote Sue also keeps a logbook where she writes down where she stays each night, what she likes or dislikes about the place, and when she dumps her tanks. I’ve started keeping a logbook of our own, so I can look back and see when we dumped our tanks. We know if we dumped Sunday (for example), there’s no way we’ve filled the black water tank by Wednesday, no matter what the indicator tells us.

During our endeavor to completely empty our black water tank, I discovered that enzymes are not just to solve problems, but to prevent problems too. I didn’t really know what I was looking for when I stood in front of the RV toilet system enzymes display in Wal-Mart. There were at least a dozen options to choose from, including liquids and powders that had to be measured and poured, premeasured liquids in little bottles, and toss-ins which consists of powder in a membrane that breaks down to release the powder (a lot like laundry pods, I suppose).  A sign at the dump station at Rockhound State Park prohibited the dumping of formaldehyde (and a handful of other chemicals I’d never heard of), so I chose a liquid labeled “natural” and “no formaldehyde.” I also bought a measuring cup set at the Dollar Tree so we could divvy out the right amount every time and have a cup that was dedicated to only this job. (To my chagrin, The Man simply pours into the toilet the amount of enzymes he thinks we need at any given time without bothering to measure.)

Bottle of RV Digest-It holding tank treatment in foreground. Mountains and clouds in the background
This is our second bottle of RV Digest-It. This is the brand of enzymes I prefer to liquefy the solid waste in our black water tank.

After we emptied the first bottle of enzymes (I think the brand name was Thetford Campa-Chem Natural RV Holding Tank Treatment) we bought Unique Camping & Marine RV Digest-It brand at Ace Hardware. It costs us upwards of $13 per 32 fluid ounce bottle, but the instructions call for 2 ounces as the regular dose, instead of the 4 ounces per dose called for with the product I purchased at Wal-Mart. Since we use less of it, I think it’s worth spending a little more. Also, it seems to do its job, which definitely makes it worth the money.

None of the enzyme products I’ve seen say how often they should be used, so we turned to Coyote Sue for advice again. She said she adds an enzyme product (I believe she uses toss-ins) after dumping her tank, then again about a week later. She typically travels alone, so she may need to add enzymes (and dump) less often than The Man and I do.

We’re not really campground people, although we did stay in one for a week while working on the road to our property. Our campsite included hookups to electricity, water, and sewer. I’d already read about proper sewer hookup procedure, but the host at the campground reminded me of what to do. While hooked up to the sewer at a campground, keep the black water tank closed until it is ⅔ full or until you are ready to dump before leaving. If you leave the tank valve open while connected to the drain, the liquid will drain away each time it’s added to the tank and not be there to help flush out the solid waste. Your sewer hose will get clogged if you leave the black water tank open, the camp host put it delicately while wrinkling her nose. I wonder if she knew this from personal experience or from watching other campers.

Whether dumping into the sewer drain at a campsite or at a dump station, dump the black water tank first, then the grey water tanks. The grey water should be less gross than the black water and will help wash the black water grossness away. After dumping and disconnecting your sewer hose, you can use fresh water to give the hose a good rinse, making sure all waste water goes down the drain.

So there you have it: everything I’ve learned so far about maintaining an RV’s grey and black water tanks.

If you have RV experience, what tips can you offer a newbie like me? Please leave a response in the comments below.

I took the photo in this post.

A History of Caravans, aka Travel Trailers

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It’s July now and the height of the summer travel season in the United States. Lots of folks are out and about with their travel trailers, but have you ever wondered about the history of these RVs that are towed behind a car or truck? Today I’m sharing a guest post from CAMP (Caravan & Motorhome Parts) all about the history of travel trailers, or caravans, as they are called in England.

Do you own a travel trailer? You may be wondering how travel trailers started out.

They originally come from the UK, and in England they are called caravans. The word “caravan” comes from the Moroccan term “karwan” which is the name of a group of desert travelers.

The caravan you own today probably has a sleek modern interior, bathroom, kitchen, HD TV and plenty more extras. However, if you go back 100 years your caravan would look completely different.

Back in 1885, Dr. William Stables purchased the first caravan ever made and called it “The Wanderer.” The same summer he bought the caravan he traveled 1400 miles across the UK powered by 2 horses.

When caravans were first introduced, they were seen as an upper class luxury, and a person needed a lot of money to buy such an item. Of course today caravans are widely accessible to people who love holidays and camping.

1919 was the year caravans started to look more like what we recognize today. People stopped using horses to move the mobile homes and progressed to using cars. This was a result of the end of World War I and people having a higher income which allowed them to buy vehicles.

Thanks to Caravan and Motorhome Parts we have a collection of the best pieces of caravan history put together in this timeline infographic. Now we can see the development of camping vehicles throughout history.

History of Caravans




Weather and the Travel Trailer

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When I was a van dweller, I didn’t give the weather a lot of thought. I didn’t

Trees Covered With Snow

like driving in the rain (never have, never will), so perhaps I’d change my departure time if it was raining when I was ready to leave. I was more concerned with ice and snow and did a better job of planning my travels in the winter, especially in the mountains. But wind? I never thought about the wind when traveling in my van.

Assorted-color Flags Under Gray Clouds

Of course, I noticed the wind when traveling in my van, especially in states with windy conditions like Kansas, Arizona, and New Mexico. Especially in my two vans with high tops, I was aware of the wind. I was lucky to have never met a gust that blew me (or scared me) off the road. Sometimes I slowed down when the wind was strong, and sometimes I held on to the steering wheel tightly with both hands, but wind never changed my travel plans.

Things are different now that The Man and I are living and traveling in a tongue-pull trailer. It’s not as easy as it once was to just get up and go.

After picking up our travel trailer, we made a trip of several hundred miles to get back to our temporary home base in Southern New Mexico. When we arrived at Rockhound State Park to take advantage of our New Mexico State Parks annual camping pass, we found no empty campsites.  We ended up staying in the parking lot of the local Wal-Mart. The location wasn’t an ideal campsite, but we didn’t mind too much because we were in our new home. The next time we went to Rockhound, we found an acceptable vacant campsite, and The Man backed in our travel trailer.

We stayed at Rockhound for about a week, splurging $4 a night to connect to electricity. We decided to head about 100 miles down the road and spend a few days at Elephant Butte Lake State Park before setting off for our final destination. We agreed to leave on Wednesday.

We woke up at our usual time that morning, between 5:00 and 6:30. I was up first, which was unusual, but The Man soon followed. He made and drank his coffee while I wrote the first draft of a blog post. We’d done most of our cleaning and putting away the night before, so we didn’t have to do much before we left.

I was heating leftovers for my breakfast when The Man asked me if I’d be ready to go soon. I told him would be ready after I ate my breakfast and brushed my teeth.

I’d noticed the wind had been strong ever since I’d gotten out of bed, which was unusual. Even in New Mexico, the wind doesn’t typically blow until the sun is out. As I ate my breakfast, the trailer continued to shimmy and shake, but I didn’t think much about it or consider what it might mean for our travel plans.

It’s bad out there, The Man said.

What’s bad? I asked. I assumed he was talking about the wind, but I wasn’t sure.

Have you looked outside? he asked.

I shook my head, then moved to the window. When I looked outside, I realized we were experiencing a full-on dust storm. I could see nothing outside the immediate surroundings of the campground. I couldn’t see any of the buildings dotting the land that slopes away from the campground. I couldn’t see the town off in the distance. Heck, I could barely make out the mountains that I knew surrounded us. The wind carried not only enough dust to block out the human-made structures I was accustomed to looking at every day, but so much dust filled the air that the very mountains were obscured. That, my friend, is a lot of dust.

I thought about the signs I’d seen in New Mexico and Arizona, the ones that say “Dust Storms May Exist” and “Zero Visibility Possible” and “Blowing Dust Area.” I thought about the signs in New Mexico telling drivers what to do if they were caught in a dust storm and couldn’t see anything. (Pull off roadway. Turn lights off. Foot off brake. Stay buckled.) The situation we were in was exactly what those signs were about.

We’d be fools to take the trailer out in this, I told The Man.

I knew he really wanted to leave, but he agreed with me. We would be fools to take the trailer out in this.

The wind delay got me thinking about how the weather is going to affect our travels with the trailer.

You wouldn’t want to pull that trailer in the rain either, I pointed out to The Man, and he agreed he wouldn’t want to do that.

Water Dew in Clear Glass Panel

We’re going to have to start looking at the weather before we leave, I told him.

Pulling the trailer is already a challenge for The Man. (I haven’t even attempted to drive the truck with the trailer attached to it.) Keeping the entire rig in his lane, watching out for the mistakes of other drivers, letting folks enter the interstate via the on ramps all contribute to his stress. Slippery roads and low visibility would certainly add to the tension. Why drive through bad weather if we can avoid it?

Checking the weather forecast is such a simple thing. If we have internet access, it’s really easy to do. My new plan is to check the forecast for proposed departure dates as soon as we begin discussing leaving. If there’s rain or ice of sleet or snow or high winds in the forecast along our route, we’ll leave as many days earlier or later as it takes to stay safe.

The high winds lasted over 24 hours. They shook the trailer all day. I felt like I was in a boat for hours. Some gusts were so strong, I wondered if the trailer would be blown over. The wind was still shaking the trailer when we went to bed. Thankfully the air was calmer the next morning (but still quite brisk by anyone’s standards), and we were able to make it safely to our next destination.

Do you check the weather forecast before you hit the road? How bad does the weather have to be before you postpone travel? What do you find most difficult to drive in: rain, wind, snow, or sleet? Please leave a comment telling how weather impacts your travel days.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/trees-covered-with-snow-833013/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/assorted-color-flags-under-gray-clouds-1685842/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/blur-cars-dew-drops-125510/.

Hitched

Standard

I was vaguely aware that hitching a trailer to the tow vehicle was more work than I wanted to do, but I really had no idea what I was getting into when I agreed to trade vanlife for a tongue-pull RV.

New Mexico State Parks logo includes drawing of a sunset, trees, grass, and water.

When we arrived at Rockhound State Park on Monday to take advantage of our New Mexico State Parks annual camping pass, The Man backed the travel trailer onto site 28 and unhooked it from the truck. I was inside cooking dinner while he went through the separation process, so I had no idea what was involved.

On Saturday the indicator told us our black and grey water tanks were ⅔ full (That happened fast! The Man and I told each other), so we figured we should do our first dump.  The Man also wanted to take the trailer to a truck stop to have it weighed. Of course, the trailer had to be hitched to the truck before we could go.

I thought The Man would take care of the hitching. After all, he’d driven the truck towing the trailer, backed it on to the campsite, and uncoupled the trailer from the truck. I thought the trailer hitch was his domain. However, he opened the front door, stuck his head in, and requested my help.

What he wanted to do seemed impossible. He wanted to position our enormous pickup truck just so in order to line up the ball on the back with the hitch on the front of the trailer. How was that ever going to work? It doesn’t help that I’m terrible at backing up a vehicle and worse at directing someone else in backing. I never know which way the steering wheel should be turned or when to straighten the wheels. I hate it when someone asks me to guide them. When I am able to do my own backing, I’m acting more intuitively than consciously. How am I supposed to tell anyone else how to back up when I can’t even verbalize the process to myself?

The Man’s been driving about two decades longer than I have; he started in his teens, while I started in my 30s. He’s also had a lot more experience hitching trailers, hauling trailers, and guiding other drivers in backing into the spot where they need to be. Often, especially in high stress situations, The Man has difficulty putting his thoughts into words. During the hitching of the trailer, all of these factors came together to create a situation of comic proportions, only none of it was funny in the moment.

I’m going to back the truck up until the ball is under the hitch, he told me. Tell me when I’m all lined up, he said as he hopped into the truck.

Ok. It all looked lined up to me, so I told him to come on back. I didn’t tell him to stop until the ball was under the hitch. When he got out of the truck to assess the situation, he was not happy. He hadn’t expected me to have him come all the way back in one fell swoop.

I could have fucked up everything, he said, but I pointed out everything was ok because he’s stopped when I told him to.

He just shook his head at me.

While the ball was under the hitch, it was two inches too far to the right. The Man explained he was going to pull the truck forward and my job was to look at the ball on the back of the truck, then direct him in moving the truck an inch or two to the left until the ball and hitch lined up perfectly for connection.

I think I laughed. First of all, looking at the ball and hitch and determining if they were aligned seemed impossible to me. I’m the roommate who can’t tell if a picture is hanging crooked on the wall. If someone asks me if a picture is straight, all I can offer is a shrug. Who knows? Maybe? It looks ok to me. Sure, I could tell if backing up the truck would bring the ball into the general proximity of the hitch, but how would I know if the ball was directly under the hitch until the two objects were within inches of each other? The Man seemed to think I should be able to determine alignment from a distance.

Secondly, being able to give directions in how to move the giant truck two inches seemed preposterous. Is it even possible to get something so big to move only two inches? The Man seemed to think it was.

The situation we found ourselves in consisted of him  barely turning the steering wheel, then backing up slowly while holding his door open and turning his upper body around to see where he was going while I made sure he didn’t crash the truck into the trailer. At one point he jumped from the truck and stomped to the back while lamenting, I have no help! I guess he meant my help was no help at all.

Again, all of this might have been funny had it been happening on television or the big screen. (I’ve always thought Janeane Garofalo should play me in the biopic about my life.) However, since we were actually experiencing the chaos, neither of us was laughing.

At one point I complained that in the 21st century there should be a device to tell us when the ball and hitch are perfectly aligned. I figured it would use lasers and a female voice (much like that of the Google Maps lady in my last phone) would instruct the driver one inch to the left or two inches to the right. This is technology I would pay for!

Apparently, some ball/hitch alignment technology does exist, although it’s not quite like I imagined. In the article “Trailer Hitch Alignment Products: Do They Really Work? Which Ones Are Best?”  on the Do-It-Yourself RV website, author Artie Beaty describes and rates four hitch alignment products.

One (the Gooseneck Easy Coupler Hitch Hook-up Mirror) is (as the name suggests) a mirror for a fifth wheel trailer that “provides a clear line of sight straight down to your hitch.”

Two of the products (the Camco Magnetic Hitch Alignment Kit and the Never Miss Hitch System from Uncle Norm’s Marine Products) make use of poles or posts that attach to the trailer and tow vehicle and stand high enough for the driver to see. When the poles are aligned, the ball and hitch are aligned too.

The final product mentioned in the article is the Hopkins Smart Hitch Camera, and it’s a bit more like the technologically advanced system I’d imagined (although no voice guide is included). In this system, “a camera attached to your hitch gives you a live view in the driver’s seat [via a computer screen] to help guide your hitch in.” This system “has three different ‘SmartZones’ displayed on the screen to alert you to how far away things are.”

When I showed The Man the devices I found while researching this post, he wasn’t impressed. First he said he would make his own components to do the same job. Then he changed his mind and said he didn’t need any alignment product. He was confident all he needed was practice. I think we should make our lives easier if we can afford to, but he’s confident we can do it on our own.

I have no plans to ever hitch and haul that trailer on my own. If something happened to The Man tomorrow, I’d want to go back to vanlife. However, if I had to hitch the trailer by myself, I would certainly get myself some assistance via one of the pole products. I’d have a difficult enough time backing up the truck. So why not get some help with the alignment of the ball and hitch?

We finally did get the trailer hitched, thanks much more to The Man’s abilities than to my own. At one point the ball and hitch were about three feet apart, but he looked at them and said yes, they were lined up. When he backed the truck into position, sure enough the ball slid right under the hitch socket.

Once the ball and hitch were attached, we went through other steps: attaching the components of the sway control system, removing chocks from under wheels, disconnecting the water and electricity, and making sure all windows and vents were closed. The Man was beyond frustrated, and I was practically in tears. I wished we never had to hitch that damn trailer again.

I you have experience hitching a travel trailer, I’d love to know your tips and tricks. Please leave a comment!

I took the photo used in this post.