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Thoughts on a cold night

Bryce is at over 8000 ft elevation, something to keep in mind if you visit here.   It may not seem like a large difference from the other parts of the Colorado Plateau, but it has made an enormous difference since we got here.   In Capitol Reef every day was in the mid-80s, and nights were so comfortable that we slept with the roof vents open.   But that was at 5400 ft, and a cold front has moved in as well.   This morning at Bryce Canyon I woke up before dawn to find the outside temperature at 30 degrees, and the furnace cycling on and off every 10-15 minutes.

The furnace is kind of noisy when it runs, and it gets annoying when it is cycling a lot.   It also is a greedy consumer of propane, so I got out of bed and fired up the catalytic heater to see how it would fare with the cold.   The catalytic is virtually silent and 100% efficient, so it uses less fuel.   We’ve run it a few times this year, but never in such chilly temperatures. Since it has a maximum output of 9000 btus (compared to 30,000 btus for the furnace), I was interested to see how it would do.

Well, the results are in:   at full bore, with 30 degrees outside, the catalytic heater is just enough to keep the trailer at about 60 degrees.   The middle of the trailer gets warmer than the ends, since the heat has to passively convect through the trailer on air currents, but it’s not bad at all.

Being up this early, and having silenced the furnace, I have been able to listen for sounds from outside.   No coyotes howling here, or bugling elk, or even chirping crickets.   Instead, I’m surprised at the amount of car traffic I can hear heading into the park at 6:30.   People must be starting early for all-day hikes into the canyon.

At 6 a.m. I was treated to a classic “stupid camper trick.”   Someone two sites away fired up their generator.   After about a minute of running rather   loudly, it shut off, and I presumed that they realized their mistake.   There’s no need to run a generator in a full-hookup campground with 30-amp power at every site. But no, the motorhome user tried again a couple of minutes later.   After three tries to get the generator started, it fired up again and ran for several minutes more in the pre-dawn darkness.   This is the sort of thing that ensures your neighbors will not be friendly in the morning.

I can’t imagine any legitimate reason for running the generator under these conditions.   My guess is that when I see the motorhome later this morning it will be bearing the giant labels of a rental.   They are everywhere right now: big white box Class C motorhomes emblazoned with “ROADBEARRV” or “Cruise America” or “Moturis” or “El Monte RV”.   Inevitably, this time of year, they are being driven by European tourists who have come over to take advantage of the weak US dollar, the lack of crowds in the school season, and the endless beauty of America’s western national parks.

They also love the fact that our fuel is only $4 a gallon, compared to the $10 they are used to paying back home, and who wouldn’t love the fall weather?   I’m glad people in other countries recognize that the American southwest is one of the most incredible places in the world.   They seem to really appreciate being here.

Most of these folks are British or German, but I heard more foreign languages while at Capitol Reef than I think I’d hear in an afternoon at the United Nations.   They seem to have some experience with driving motorhomes so they aren’t always terrifying, but I still always watch carefully when one comes down the road.   I think they should paint the rental RVs yellow or orange, like rental trucks, so that people can immediately know that there’s quite possibly a clueless newbie driving that huge box.

The sun is still below the horizon but there’s some light in the sky now, and I can see the motorhome in question from my window.   Yep, it says “Cruise America” all over it.   From his dress, the occupant appears to be American.   He has clothes hanging from the radio antenna, and at 7 a.m. he is taking down a clothesline strung from the passenger’s rear-view mirror to a tree on our site.   He is hustling to get packed up, like a tornado is coming.   Doors are banging open and shut every minute or so, and various thumps are emanating from the interior.   When outside, he is storming back and forth and shaking his hands from the cold.   Maybe he’s in danger of paying for another day, and wants to get back to the rental office soon.

I would hate to count the number of breaches of RV etiquette that I see and hear being committed next door.   Fortunately, I was already awake, and I’m not a stickler for etiquette anyway.   Mostly it’s an amusing show that reminds me of when we got our first Airstream and had to learn the ropes.

I’d hate to learn on a rental RV.   One of the first things I noticed about having a travel trailer is that everything is highly personalized.   There’s no single “right way” to do everything. You have to work out your own systems, your own storage methods, your own checklists, and get to know your equipment.   You can’t do that with a rental because you can’t personalize it.   With our own trailer, when I spotted a problem, I could modify things to work better.   It’s like having your own apartment versus living in a motel.   It’s fine for a short time, but over the long run you want your own stuff.

At this point we have our trailer so thoroughly tweaked and tricked out that it’s hard to imagine being in another.   Everything is the way we need it to be, which is probably why we feel so comfortable in it.   The catalytic heater is just the latest example. I like the fact that we have our home equipped “just so.”

The Cruise America motorhome has now departed, after several minutes of idling in the campsite and much revving of the engine.   We won’t miss him.   Things are quiet again. Eleanor is up with the sun, making coffee in the kitchen, and I think this cold morning calls for hot cereal and tea for me.   We’ll have a few minutes of time to ourselves before Emma wakes up, and then start planning a day out in Bryce Canyon.

3 Responses to “Thoughts on a cold night”

  1. David & Denese Lee Says:

    We were there in Bryce last October and got to experience watching a snow storm approach, got snowed on then watched it depart and the sun came back out…all while standing at one of the overlooks! Utah is indeed a great state to visit with lots to do and see! We were there for 5 weeks and traveled almost 3000 miles and still have lots to return to see. And bty the magazines arrived last week. Thank you so very much. David and Denese Lee

  2. Jay & Cherie Guerin Says:

    Hi Rich,
    We just came down the Chief Joseph Highway from Yellowstone NP to Cody WY and are recharging/resupplying. In the park the trailer got down to 44 degrees inside but we like our puffy comforter rather than the furnace blowing on/off during the night. The furnace warms the trailer to 70 in about 20 minutes. Cherie has to manually “grind the beans” for coffee but it’s ready by the time the trailer is warmed. We’re carrying an extra 30 gallons of water with an rv tank in the pickup so we’re good for 4/5 nights of boondocking with “all the comforts”.
    After spending 2 weeks in Zion last April we wanted to go on to Bryce, but there was still 8 inches of snow on the ground. Zion was great, no cars allowed. We mostly biked there and down to Grafton (Ghost Town) and took the shuttle to trail heads. Never used the pickup for two weeks. Wish Glacier and Rocky would follow suit.
    We ended up not going to Banff, as originally planned, because of cold rainy weather.

  3. terry Says:

    Rich, I’ve learned from our own experience with a catalytic heater, if you know it is going to be cold that night, to turn it on “low” setting. It will stay warm, rather than trying to warm a cold trailer, and you will have much better results.
    Also, did the guy in the rental RV resemble Robin Williams?

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