That was the scenic rating listed in one of our campground guide books for Big Basin Redwoods State Park. All weekend, Richard kept asking me, “Do you think this is a ten?” Every time, my answer was, “Yes, this is a ten.” Still, he likes asking those kinds of questions just to verify that my opinion hasn’t suddenly changed. We’re home now and I would still rate this park a ten. You should all go.
Earlier this week, I got a happy surprise in the mail notifying me that our personalized license plate for Dory had arrived. It took about three months from the time I placed the order, but I have no complaints. The fact that we are registered and have title and plates at all exceeds my expectations for that whole process. I know some have not been as lucky registering a Canadian trailer with the DMV. For those who don’t know, the 633 is the manufacture number of our Alto, and Dory is, well, Dory. Also, I picked up a tiny bottle of trailer Tabasco for Richard and it makes him ridiculously happy.
As the days are getting shorter and we knew we’d have a long, windy drive, Richard got Bruce all packed up and I got home as soon as I could on Friday, hoping to get to the site before dark. Drive was straight forward until we hit Bear Creek Road off of Highway 17. When you drive these kinds of roads, you might be aware they are steep and windy, but your whole perspective changes when you’re towing something. Thank goodness we were towing an ultra lightweight trailer, and doing so with our overkill towing weight capacity MDX. There were some seriously steep stretches there where I would have been surprised if our 4 cylinder Subie could have managed it. I have no idea how many times we uttered phrases in the general family of “Bruce is awesome”, but his car ego should be feeling pretty pumped up right now. We do love that car.
We pulled in to the site right around 6pm and it was dusky. Plenty of light to get set up, but pushing it more than that would have involved some fairly nerve wracking backing in the dark. Our site was fantastic, but in order to prevent trailers from plummeting into some fairly decent sized ravines, the park has placed these enormous logs and posts as boundary markers for your site. We managed just fine but I wouldn’t want to try that by lantern light.
This was our first weekend boon docking with the Trimetric battery monitor. I will save all of the juicy details for the end, on the off chance that not all of you are enthralled with amp hours. Just know that a good deal of our time this weekend was spent either looking at the monitor while turning things on and off, or timing refrigeration cycles. Cause that’s our idea of fun!
Sunday morning we began the day with chocolate croissants and a scolding by the park ranger for not having checked in the night before upon arrival. Richard had the pleasure of going down to the park headquarters to let them know we were here, and from his description, it was pretty busy with people asking this one poor ranger all their rapid fire questions. After the chiding, she was more than happy to show him a map of some nice redwood hikes. Huckleberry campground is set apart from the main part of the park, and as such, is very secluded and shielded from the day use folks. The views out our windows cannot be beat. In every direction you could see, as far as you can tip your head back, beautiful California redwoods, reaching way up into the sky. Shafts of sunlight shot through the gaps, but mostly you are in the deep, cool shade of an old growth forest.
While he was checking in, I put up our awning, more so I could send pictures to the company, Pahaque, than for practical awning use reasons. We are early adopters of the front wall piece so I promised a couple of nice shots of it up. I took …. let’s just say lots. Hopefully one of them will be online catalogue worthy for them. In fact though, this isn’t the kind of site where the awning really comes in handy.
Here’s why. Can’t really see the view. When there’s no view or there are neighbors, it’s awesome and can create privacy where there was none. But when there are towering trees to wake up to, I’d rather see that.
We did a loop through the trees up to a place called Sempervirens Falls. It was glorious. About a two mile hike through deep forest with very few people on the trail. Approaching the falls we saw a couple and asked if it was just ahead. They replied we might want to reset our expectations right there because it wasn’t much of a falls. This we knew already but their comment was funny. They added that, while the view itself wasn’t much right now, it was entertaining to watch the crestfallen expressions of people as they arrived at the observation deck. We’re Californians, so we were impressed there was water at all. I guess others might not have been bowled over by what looked like someone had left a faucet running.
Back at the site, we looked at battery usage, because of course we did, and got dinner ready. Tri tip steak and veggies on the grill plus a beer or two equals perfect dinner. I’m slowly honing in on a couple of logistical solutions for grill oiling but I’m open to suggestions. I kept a plastic cup with oil and a silicone brush in it all weekend which I used for any oiling related tasks. At the end of the weekend, I dried the brush with paper towels and threw out the cup. That kept really gross dishwashing down a bit.
Saturday night we tried to conserve battery power by not running the fan, but just left the cover open. It worked fine and we didn’t have any condensation in the morning. We actually have not had issues with condensation except when it’s been raining a long time. Again, drought here, so we are usually able to run the fan on low and wake up a little crisp, but totally dry.
Sunday we wrapped up leisurely and pulled out right at noon. Long, slow drive back, trying to take the pull outs when it was safe, so others could get past me. As long as I was going slow on the curves, it was all good. “Ten” was the word for the weekend and we’ll be looking for chances to go back there.
Total miles: 93.6 miles, Engine Time: 3 hours, 57 min, 16.1 mpg
Site: Huckleberry 63. Awesome site, Huckleberry is the place to be. Most sites great, but 63 looked the best to us.
Ok, so our battery holds around 100 amp hours and it’s not great for the battery to drain it lower than 50%. Without this fancy monitor, there is no good way to get an accurate read on what’s happening with the battery. The Alto comes standard with a little thing you plug in to look at the voltage, but that’s not a very good indicator of where things are, for reasons I only partially, and fuzzily, am beginning to understand. I am providing some voltage numbers because I happened to write them down, but Richard is now going on about how, if anyone asks me, I should explain something about voltage and draw vs. voltage and solar putting things in….. My reply to anyone who asks me anything is really going to be to just ask Richard. Nevertheless, here’s some data on how much some of the battery powered items in the Alto appear to draw:
- 12v fridge: 3A when running (more on that later)
- Fan at low speed: .3A
- Fan at high speed: 3A (anything less than high drops it quickly to 1A or less)
- Water pump: 2-3A while water is running or it’s pressuring the system
- Lights: .2A each
- Propane water heater: .6-.8A when it’s heating
So all of those things have a draw, but how long they run is kind of key. We are really looking closely at the fridge. Richard sat there with a stopwatch trying to figure out its cooling cycles to see if he could make sense of it. It was so regular as to be predictable to the second. The thing is, we experimented with turning its temperature setting down from “3 1/2” on the dial, all the way down to “1” and it didn’t seem to have a major impact on how often the external fan went on, or how much of a draw there was in amps. Over time, it was the fridge that was the biggest battery user, so we’d like to keep experimenting. What we didn’t try, but might next time, is to turn it off at night when it’s cold. Everything inside was always plenty cold, even too much at 3 1/2, so we were hoping setting it lower would all but stop it. It didn’t though. More on this developing story later….
I looked at the voltage numbers occasionally, but mostly we were looking at the minute by minute draw or the percentage of the battery. For a couple of reference points, when the battery was at 69%, I noticed the voltage was 12.1. When it was down to 56%, it said 11.4. And right before hitching up, the percentage was 51%, there was about an Amp going in from solar, and the voltage said 11.8. As for overall battery usage, here are some numbers on how the percentage went down from full over two days:
- 100% on arrival
- 95% going to bed Friday (after 1 hot shower, fan on high, and fridge running)
- 81% on Sat morning (running fridge set at 2 and fan on low all night)
- 78% at 11 am Saturday (after another hot shower, with fan while showering)
- 73% at 4pm (while we were out, only the fridge was running)
- 69% at 7pm
- 67% at 9pm (after shower #3)
- 56% Sunday morning (no fan overnight, only fridge, set to “1”)
- 51% at noon before hitching up (and after shower #4)
Total amp hours used for two overnights: 49AH (yay!)
Now for the solar panels. We mostly did not get much in the way of solar putting energy back in to the battery. A look at the pictures will explain why. We were in deep shade. The best we ever saw going in was 1.03A and that was when a shaft of light hit one of the panels. The other was in shade. The ambient light was putting in from .2A to .6A, so not much. Certainly not enough to offset our usage for more than two days. As it was, my primary question has been answered though: Can we boon dock in beautiful state parks with no hookups in the worst case scenario in terms of solar power? Answer: Yes. Yes, we can as long as we are thoughtful about battery usage. More than two nights and I think we’d need to see how much we can save by turning the fridge off at night. Richard is on a mission now to understand the fridge and we may be able to do some tweaking there. But really, for me, this is all academic. I’m mostly interested in knowing about weekend getaways and now I know that we can do it without power. Yeah, for longer stays, we’d need either 1) sun, 2) electric hookups, or 3) a generator. We’re not planning to go down that road for right now, but I think Richard is thinking more seriously about installing two 6V deep cycle batteries some day. That would extend the usable amp hours to something like 175. For me though, I’m not looking at longer stays but it’s good to know our limits.
I’m going to just add that when we got home, the battery had only gotten back up to 61% after being plugged into the car and recharging during a three hour drive. That was a surprise, as we thought it would be higher. We still had to get Dory up the driveway with the caravan mover, which we know is a huge draw. We did get her up no problem, and at the top, the battery measured 56%. So that was an immediate 5% drop just to get her in the garage. Also good to know if we’re ever cutting it close.