Yellowstone – fabulous and smoky

We are back on the road. We left Tuesday after waiting for the Labor Day crowds to go home. We arrived at Baker’s Hole campground around 4:00 and got the next to last spot here. It is a huge site next to the river with a good open exposure. We were really interested in how the solar set up would work, and it is wonderful! We have turned on the generator only long enough to run the expresso machine in the mornings. The solar has brought the battery up to full charge every day. We have run the fans all day, used the satellite television system extensively, and run the heater quite a bit at night and in the mornings. We have been more extravagant with power than we usually are, and it is still lovely.

For the last few years we have concentrated on seeing animals while in the park. This time we decided to concentrate on the thermal features. I always recommend first (or second) time visitors to Yellowstone really spend time at the variety of thermal features. The animals and scenery are spectacular, but there is nowhere else on earth with such an abundance of funeroles, hot springs, paint pots and geysers like YNP. My back is still bothering me, and Kevin’s knee is still a problem, but we did take some short loops to see some of the best spots.

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The basin from a distance on a cool morning
An itty bitty geyser on a ~5 minute cycle
Another geyser
Old Faithful from the walking trail
Another view of Old Faithful

The park is weirdly smoky, though the pollution is still better than at home.

A very smoky sunrise heading into the park
The smoke was intense. Trust me, there are mountains over there.

We were planning on heading to Mammoth Spring campground from here, but the road between Norris and Mammoth is closing for construction on Sunday. The detour is something I do NOT want to do with a trailer, so we decided to go to Gros Ventre in Grand Teton National Park again. Tomorrow we will ride the bikes into West Yellowstone and visit the museum and Visitor Center there. Oddly enough, I haven’t ever been to either of them.

We have solar!

We have been thinking about getting a solar setup for our travel trailer for about 6 months. I was getting really tired of having to run the generator for 4 hours most days. RV batteries get to a 75-80% charge pretty quickly, but it takes forever to get them to 100% (well, it seems like it!). About a month ago Kevin found time to got serious planning out a system. He spent lots of time looking at various websites and forums, figuring out what would be the best for us.

We have two six volt deep cycle batteries that, when new, give us 220 amp hours. Every time you run the batteries down below 50% or so you decrease the amp hours. I am sure they have degraded some, but we planned for that much power. He made templates of the panels and put them on the roof to see how they would fit. The trailer could easily handle 300 watts of panels so he decided that was a good start. First thing we did was update the power converter. I provided information about that before.

He ended up ordering the main items from Renogy and some miscellaneous stuff from Amazon (cable, connectors, fuses, etc.). It took at least 30 hours to get the installation done, but it is a quality job. All the cables are run behind walls, and he even added some insulation to the front cap while he was at it. Here is what the top looked like before he applied sealant to the wires and the small holes needed for mounting.

Roof with panels.

The controller was mounted in the front storage unit, very near the battery.

The Renogy controller and some fuses.

The voltage shows the unit is putting out 13.2 volts at the point I took the picture. It works with both the solar and any electricity we are plugged into. The controller does a great job of adjusting the voltage going to the batteries based on how low they are. The batteries can take a lot more volts when they are low than when they are nearly charged, and this unit does that well.

I imagine we will be able to give it a good try when we head out after Labor Day. We still haven’t figured where we want to go, but Yellowstone or the Gallatin River are possibilities. We are thinking of Baker’s Hole again (Forest Service) followed by Mammoth Springs (NPS), but we haven’t decided for sure. Both of those are dry camping spots without electricity. This is a tough time to go camping. Lots of places north of us start shutting down not long after Labor Day, but it is still too hot to go south.

On a very minor note, I bought new microfiber throw rugs for the trailer today at IKEA. We had been using heavy cotton throw rugs, but they were hard to wash and took forever to dry. The new rugs are the same as I have been using in my bathroom at home, and they are easy to care for. We bought a new teapot and lots of new glasses for the kitchen at home too. It was a productive day. We also had our yearly update with our financial advisor. Still looking good enough to purchase another car in the next 6 months or so plus a big Class A RV in 3-5 years. There is something to be said about living below your income and saving.