Our First Off Grid Experience!

Hello all!  Happy Memorial Day to all our readers.  Hopefully everyone had a safe and pleasant holiday weekend!

We spent Memorial Day weekend in Utah, near Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park.  The parks were amazing, and we really had a great time, but the town was just PACKED!  We had booked an RV park in advance but it was one of the cheaper ones and when we got there we were just so disappointed with it.  I was missing home, I think, and having visions of us grilling and drinking a few beers by our house on Memorial Day like we would have done if we were with friends and family.  But the park was so depressing that it just made me even more homesick.  We started looking for other options...

Every place in Moab was booked up, including all the state parks, national parks, and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) campgrounds.  But the great news is that this part of the country is just chock full of public lands.  There is just so much open land in Utah!  It's federally owned but not maintained, just preserved.  Since it's public land, it's free to camp on it.  They just ask that you look for designated campsites and that you leave nothing behind (including human waste, so even tent campers were required to have their own portable toilets).  We figured we'd give it a shot!  If you're at all familiar with this part of the country, there's a large section of these public lands off highway 313, on the way to Canyonlands National Park.  We pulled off near Lone Mesa campground and found a nice little clearing right off the road where people had clearly camped before.  We stayed for two nights and it was just amazing.  The stars were about the brightest I've ever seen and the silence at night was so relaxing.  It was such an adventure!

Here's a little info on how we were able to pull off 2 nights completely off-grid. First off, when we left our RV park we filled up our fresh water tank.  We have a 46-gal fresh water tank on board and a water pump for when we have no water hookup.  (Read more about this in our plumbing blog post.) We had already decided we could handle skipping showers for those two days, so we just filled it up about 2/3 full for hand washing and dishes.  We had about 1/3 of the tank still left over after the two nights.  Once parked, we pulled out our 100W solar panel and leaned it against the house facing the sun.  Our 100Ah battery supplied us with minimal lighting, a cold fridge, and a functioning water pump for the 2 nights we were there, but by the time the last morning rolled around, the inverter was beeping that our battery was low. (Read more about this system in our electrical blog post.)

Here's what we found and what we might do to become less grid-dependent.  Our fridge ended up using more power than I was expecting.  When the compressor kicks on, it uses a lot of power (a few hundred watts), but that's only for a second or two.  Then it just circulates that cold air through the fridge and when it's doing that it sits at about 50W.  That might not sound like much, but I was constantly noticing it humming.  We ended up turning the dial in the fridge all the way down, so it was cooling less.  Next time we might just buy a bag of ice and use it as a cooler instead of powering it.  We also had a bit of cloud cover while we were there and though it kept us cooler, when you're trying to harness the sun power clouds are no good!  When we were getting full sun, we would get about 60W from the panel. Even if the fridge was running we still had a net gain of power but overnight, when we were getting no solar power, the battery started to drain.

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If we really wanted a more robust system we should add another battery and possibly another panel, but for the moment, a cooler and a 2-3 night limit is just fine with us.  We really had a wonderful time using all the features of our house, exploring such amazing and vast lands, and just realizing all the freedom that we have to park our house where we want.  We will no longer be afraid to book a couple nights at a campsite with no hookups.  The national parks were awesome too, despite the crowds.  Seriously Utah, you're beautiful.