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Ready, set, charge!

Our admission to the Grizzly and Wolf Discover Center was a two-day ticket, so Emma went back on Tuesday afternoon to join a special kids program.   They let the kids go into the bear habitat (when the bears aren’t there, of course) and hide food under the rocks and stumps for the bears to find.   This is great fun for the kids and the grizzlies.   The kids get to “feed the bears” in a safe and legal fashion, and the grizzlies get to go sniff it out, which keeps their lives interesting.


Sam the grizzly bear says “Go ahead, leave some food at your campsite!”

Recovering from a long period offline is serious work.   There are the usual emails and phone calls to be caught up on, and replenishing our supplies, and it all tends to happen in a big hurry because we want to be able to do more stuff as soon as possible.   So today I spent about 12 hours parked in front of the computer while Emma finished her latest Junior Ranger projects (two of them, for two different Yellowstone patches) and Eleanor dealt with heaps of laundry.

This evening I emerged from the trailer at sunset and found Bert preparing to go into town for a tank of propane, so I put my empty 30# propane tank in his truck and   joined him for the ride.

West Yellowstone is a very small town concentrated in about six square blocks at the gate of Yellowstone National Park.   It has the look of an Alaskan village, with shabby buildings that show the wear of long hard winters, randomly intermingled with well-kept shops aimed at the tourist trade, and restaurants that sport neon signs.   There are three gas stations in two blocks distance, a sign that this is the outpost of Yellowstone and the next gas station is a long way off.

This time of year West Yellowstone is shutting down.   The tourists are mostly gone, the skies have gone gray, and the sun is setting before 7 p.m.   We counted ourselves lucky to find a place still selling propane after 6 p.m. (a corner convenience store).   Bert mentioned this to one of the locals, who snorted, “Are you kidding?   West Yellowstone!” as if “West Yellowstone” was a self-explanatory expletive, a code word for avarice or commercialism.

“Not while there’s money to be made,” he went on, but I think his attitude was too vehement to be fair to the town.   Yes, it caters to the tourist trade — why else would it be here? — but looking around I can see that the people who make a living here do so at the price of a long winter.   I can’t begrudge them trying to make a living during the few short months of summertime activity.

Our campground is more than half empty.   I’m sure most of the people who are still here are commuting into Yellowstone, as Bert did today.   He was hunting again for the Great Gray Owl, but found a female moose and calf instead.   We are seriously considering going back into the park tomorrow together to try for some good photos of the moose, but we’ll need to book another night here first.

I have discovered something annoying about the factory power converter.   Our trailer has a Parallax 7300 series converter.   It contains a 2-stage battery charger, which means it’s the thing responsible for setting the rate of charge of our batteries when we plug in.

We came out of Yellowstone with our batteries drained about 125 amp-hours and I expected that we’d be re-charged in a day or   so.   But the Parallax only rapid-charged the batteries for a couple of hours.   After that, based on the voltage of the batteries, it stepped down to its “trickle-charge” rate, even though the batteries were still about 70 amp-hours from full.

Since then it has charged at a pathetically slow rate, between 0.37 amps and 1.5 amps.   (Our Tri-Metric 2020 system monitor tells us this.)   This means our batteries will take days to fully recharge.   If we relied on the very basic monitor that comes with nearly all RVs, we’d think we were recharged because a silly little (inaccurate) telltale light would glow green, but the Tri-Metric actually knows better and it tells us the truth.

I’ve been asking for opinions on how to improve this situation from RV electrical system experts, and so far the explanation is that I need to upgrade the Parallax to a 3-stage charger, which is possible but costs over $200 just for the necessary parts.   With a third stage that charges at a higher voltage, the Parallax will be much more effective.

Interestingly, we already have a separate 3-stage charge controller in the Airstream (a Blue Sky SolarBoost 2000e) specifically for the solar panels.   The Blue Sky unit takes over when sun starts to hit the solar panels.   So when the sun comes out, our rate of charge increases dramatically, up as high as 10 amps (actual amperage depends on the amount of sun), and when the sun goes behind a cloud we’re back to the trickle charge level determined by the Parallax.   In other words, we can charge much more quickly using a little sunshine than we can when plugged into a 30-amp power cord!

The past few 36 hours have not been very sunny, which (as Dr Seuss would say) seems rather unfunny.   We are plugged into all the electrical power we could want, enough to run a heat pump and toaster, but the stupid power converter won’t let our batteries have any!

One partial solution to this quandary is to reduce our power requirements in the future.   As several correspondents have pointed out to me, a catalytic heater would eliminate the need to run the energy-robbing furnace and thus reduce our cold-weather power   needs by more than half.   I agree, and I wish we’d installed a catalytic heater a year ago when I first considered it.   We had cat heaters in our previous two Airstreams and loved them for their efficiency and quietness.

For now I am going to take a week or two to consider what to do.   Both options presented so far (upgrading the Parallax and adding a catalytic heater) will cost $300-400 each by the time we are done.   Also, we are heading into a rather hectic travel period and don’t foresee any long stops for at least several weeks, which makes pausing for service a problem.

I think the immediate thing to do is to go look for moose in Yellowstone while I’ve still got the chance.   I’ll get up early in the morning to finalize some work and join Bert for one last photo safari.   I can worry about the power situation later.

One final note: this evening Bert, Janie, and I were talking about all the places we’ve met and camped together.   We came up with nine states we’ve met in:   Maine, Vermont, New Jersey, Florida, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Wyoming, and Montana.   I love the fact that we are long-distance friends and yet manage to get together for good camping fun all over the country.

One Response to “Ready, set, charge!”

  1. sadira Says:

    I have never been to Yellowstone…only living vicariously through my mother’s memories of the place…I sometimes wonder what I’ve been doing with my life? How fun to be able to feed the bears (all legal like and whatnot) and see moose too? (I almost did in AK, but we didn’t see any, which apparently is rare up there, cause’ they’re like rats…well, big hairy rats anyway)