Usually we travel down 97 to Interstate 5 and take it south, however because of forest fires as well as the closure of I-5 we decide to take a more easterly route to Alturas on US 395 to Interstate 80. We had not traveled with Lola along US 395 in Northeastern California, so it was a new area to see.
Likely Place Golf and RV Resort is a great place to stay. Besides being a half way point in our travels south, it has an 18 hole golf course. It is in a pretty remote area in Northeastern California yet close to US 395 to make it a convenient stop.
There are 5 or 6 cement pads and a few more grassy areas all with power for telescope setups. With the dark skies and high elevation Likely Place Golf and RV Resort is perfect to do some stargazing. Since we are only here for one night, Jeff set up the tripod and camera to get some practice getting some Milky Way pictures. He focuses on Cassiopeia and Andromeda Galaxy and uses Deep Sky Stacker (DSS) to process the images.
Besides stargazing, the resort offers a host of other activities such as fishing, kayaking, paddle boarding, hiking and nearby places to ATV. California’s Lava Beds National Monument is close by and many other attractions to explore. Several scenic drives are listed on the Lively Place Golf and RV resort sure to keep any family busy while staying here. See more here.
Likely Place Golf and RV Resort is on our list of places to come back to – as a matter of fact we plan to revisit the resort next spring on our way north to Alaska.
Part 2: Exploring from Thousand Trails Bend-Sunriver Base Camp
We are at Thousand Trails Bend-Sunriver just south of Bend Oregon to wrap up our visit to the Newberry National Volcanic Monument (Newberry NVM) in central Oregon. The campground is very large with 2 pools and the Little Deschutes river running alongside the property. It is a perfect place for a base camp to explore more of the Newberry Volcano after spending over a week at Lake Paulina in the volcano caldera.
See Part 1 when we camped at Lake Paulina inside the cauldera here.
The campsites are large and spaced apart at Bend-Sunriver. There is an unfenced leash-free area for dogs along the river. There are also trails and a fire road for some great walking. I also took the telescope out to the dog area because it is surrounded by high bushes for less light interference.
There are 3 observatories in the area. I visited the Oregon Observatory at Sunriver where there were more than a dozen telescopes set up looking at the stars and planets. The University of Oregon also has an observatory at Pine Mountain (Pine Mountain Observatory) that is open to the public on Fridays and Saturdays during the warm months. Also, the Worthy Brewery in Bend has a “hopservatory” up on their roof. Plus there are lots of places east of Bend in the desert where you can find a dark spot and set up your telescope or break out the binoculars.
Here’s a few pictures taken out by the dog field using the camera.
The Lava Cast Forest in the Newberry Volcano area was created 6,000 years ago. As the lava flow wrapped around trees, it cooled and hardened, leaving the imprint of the trees and the trees burned and rotted away. Many used to be 5 to 10 feet tall, but scavengers broke up most of the larger examples. Even so, it is a fascinating walk peering down the holes where trees once stood thousands of years ago. You can see the imprint from the bark that was on the trees! Easy walk and you can bring your dogs as well.
The Lava River Cave is another cool place to visit at the Newberry Volcano. This is the longest lava tube in Oregon and is 80,000 years old. Just to put it into perspective – the oldest lava flow on Newberry Volcano is 400,000 years old, and the most recent is 1,300 years old. Scientists believe Newberry first erupted about 600,000 years ago. It is still an active shield shaped stratovolcano, with over 400 vents (the most of any volcano in the lower 48 states).
And, it’s DARK! At nearly a mile long with no lights along the path, did I say it is DARK? Of course I brought a flashlight. But Christine wanted to make sure we had light, so she rented one at the ranger station. And, it is a good thing she did since the batteries in my torch went out after a few hundred steps. We held hands after that so I didn’t get lost in the dark. A couple of times Christine turned her flashlight off just to see what it is like to be in the dark. I could have told her, since I spend a lot of time in the dark… ok just kidding (a little bit). At the point where you can no longer go any further, she turned off the light again. You suddenly starts thinking of all of the scary movies you ever watched and quickly turn the light back on. Easy walk with a few places that have rocks you walk around or over and two sections that if you are tall, need to duck because of low ceilings.
Lava Butte is part of the Newberry Volcano, and is a large cinder cone. During the summer a bus is provided because of the small parking lot at the top of the cone. We visited after Labor Day so we just had to wait 45 minutes until the next set of 10 or so cars were allowed up to the top. We picked a magnificent day that had less smoke haze from the forest fires so we got better views of the Cascade mountains and the Newberry Volcano. We heard that on a very clear day you could see Mt. Shasta.
The Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway is a very pretty drive around Mount Bachelor just south of Bend and west of the Newberry Volcano. Poor Bachelor – always just a little ways away from the Three Sisters, 3 stratovolcanos just west of the Newberry Volcano. Lots of lakes and views of the mountains. It is an easy drive to make after a late breakfast since it is 66 miles long. We took the dogs and they swam at a couple of the lakes. Watch out though! Some of the lakes have toxic algae in them. We had to wipe the dogs down after they got near some of the algae.
We are camping at Lake Paulina National Forest campground in the caldera of the Newberry Volcano that is in the Newberry National Volcanic Monument just east of Bend Oregon. Newberry Volcano is the largest (by mass and area) Volcano in the Cascade mountain range that goes from southern Canada down through northern California. The mountain with it’s lava flows is roughly the size of the state of Rhode Island. We are staying at the campground for 9 days.
We did not know if there was water available for Lola, however once we called up to the Ranger Station, we were told that there was potable water next to the dump station. Once we got to our campground, the water spigot that was near our campsite indeed did have a threaded spigot, however several of the other water spigots are not threaded. The campground does offer a few gray water disposal sites and a bathroom with flush toilets and sinks with running water.
There is an observation site at the top of Paulina Peak – the highest point of the Newberry Volcano. On a clear day the views are magnificent, however it was smoky from the forest fires in southern Oregon and northern California. Nice day for a drive though, and we can see the two lakes in the caldera – Lake Paulina and East lake.
We drove through East Lake and notice that there are more nice campsites even though many are smaller than the Lake Paulina sites.
The big draw for the drive is a hike through the Big Obsidian Flow. There is an interpretive trail going through the Big Obsidian Flow in the Newberry Volcano caldera. The Big Obsidian Flow is the most recent geologic formation in the Newberry Volcano created 1,300 years ago, and like the name suggests… it is BIG! I always think of obsidian chunks that I can hold in my hand. This is a whole mountain of obsidian (pardon the pun).
One of the most interesting items is that obsidian was used for the first open heart surgeries done because obsidian blades are a lot sharper than any knife edge possible. Obsidian blades are sharpened to a width of one molecule. Now, that’s surprising!
There are two lakes in the Newberry Volcano caldera. Lake Paulina where we are camping, and East Lake. At one time there was one lake in the caldera then a fissure opened up and lava separated the two lakes. About 3,500 years ago another eruption created an obsidian flow by East Lake. The “Little Crater” is one of the craters between the two lakes and a nice hike. We didn’t take the dogs because it’s somewhat steep in sections and some places that just dropped off into a narrow valley.
It is a very nice day with great views of the lake and the obsidian flow, even though you could tell the smoke from the fires was starting to come back into the area.
The 8 mile hike around Lake Paulina is a pretty easy hike. There is some elevation change but mostly it is rated a moderate hike because of the length. Another hazy day for our walk around the lake, but the water is crystal clear and we spotted many aquatic birds, moss and flowers. We could just make out Paulina Peak when we are on the far side of the lake. We will return another time when there are no forest fires.
Using narrow National Forest Service roads we drove a loop from East Lake south then west around Paulina Peak and then north up to the entrance that is west of Paulina Lake Campground. During the whole drive we spotted one tent in a dispersed camping area but no other persons! In many places the road is very slow going, and our Honda Pilot just had enough clearance to drive the little used roads. We stopped several times to explore ancient fissures and old logging roads. The dogs had a blast getting off leash.
Our next stop is Chickahominy Recreationa Area. It is off of US highway 20, about 34 miles west of Burns Oregon, and about 100 miles east of Bend. It is a 5 day layover, dry camping at the BLM campsite. There is water at the fish cleaning station (with threaded spigot). The spaces are spread out with lots of privacy. No hookups at the campsites, and no reservations.
The campground is a short distance from US 20 and you don’t get a lot of road noise at night. With the senior discount at $7 a night we couldn’t complain.
The little reservoir is half full and is noted as a good fishing spot. There are only a few other campers braving the 100 degree weather. We get some fantastic sunsets due to the smoke from the fires in southern Oregon and northern California. As a result of the hot weather we run the generator for the AC most afternoons to cool things off, otherwise we are running on solar.
It seems like every time I thought about taking the drone “Eyes of Lola” out it was too windy, so no drone videos this post either.
On our clearer nights I set up the telescope. Due to the smoke haze we use the binoculars for most of the star watching. With the few campers around and the closest town 25 miles away this is a great dark site for looking at the skies at night. No photos, sorry! I was mainly practicing setting up the telescope.
Swimming and Kayaking at Chickahominy Lake
The dogs enjoyed cooling off swimming in the lake in the afternoon! We took the kayak out for a spin in the lake and got some great pictures of an American Pelican on the far shore. There are some good walking trails around the lake. One hike took us towards US 20 and we found lots of obsidian shards that are pure black and SHARP to cut into shoes and fingers.
Malheur National Forest and Delintment Lake
Road Trip! We loaded the dogs into the Pilot and drove to Riley to get gas. We then drove in a big loop north to tour the southern part of the Malheur National Forest. Once we got past a few large cattle ranches we drove up into the Blue Mountains covered with Ponderosa pine trees. This is a nice change of pace to the sage desert at the campground.
As we gained elevation in the southern end of the Blue Mountains and reach the tree line the temperature cooled considerably. We enjoy the drive and pass several National Forest campgrounds scattered here and there. Most campsites would not accommodate Lola being too small. Taking the route from Riley the roads have many sections that are dirt up to Delintment Lake. If you are driving up to Delintment Lake with a trailer or RV take the road from Burns because it is smooth blacktop.
Bruneau Dunes State Park in Idaho has the ‘highest single structured sand dune and a public observatory with a 25 inch Newtonian reflecting telescope. The park has two RV sections – almost empty during the heat of July. They also have an equestrian area and several day use sections. Christine decided to walk up one of the big dunes almost to the top before the heat set in and warmed up the sand. Several people were sand-boarding down the side of the smaller dune.
A short drive from Bruneau Dunes State Park is the Bruneau Canyon Overlook. It is managed by the BLM with input from the local Shoshone Indian tribes, ranchers and environmental groups to protect the area that has been used by the Native Americans for centuries. It is a remote and spectacular canyon well worth the drive. As a side note, you drive through a U. S. Airforce bombing range where… you guessed it… “objects may fall from aircraft”!
There are two Castle Rocks in Idaho – both have crazy rock formations. We visited the Castle Rocks on Castle Rocks Creek east of Mountain Home on Idaho highway 20. The other Castle Rocks is near the Utah border! Regardless – the Castle Rocks near Mountain Home is a fun drive and the early afternoon light on the rocks brought out some amazing natural erosion relief. Other than a couple of forest service guys, some cows and a few ranchers we are alone on this trip. The dogs enjoyed walking on the dusty road while Christine and Jeff take pictures.
Mountain Home is the largest city around. With Mountain Home Air Force base close by it is a busy town with most conveniences available. Jeff utilized the library and Walmart for picture and video uploads and we visited the grocery store too. Also went to the local farmers market which had some great fresh fruits and vegetables, but the best were the fresh farm eggs.
There is a winery (Cold Springs Winery) close by near Hammett, Idaho, which we visited. Even though the sign indicated it was closed, we had called and their message said they were open, so we drove up to the house / winery on the hill. The wine master was there wrapping up some things and opened the doors for us to do some wine tasting. Excellent wine, spent a few dollars on quite a few different varieties and you just couldn’t beat the views from the top of the hill. Spectacular! This winery is also a member of Harvest Hosts, which allows you to stay one to two days for free with no services, but you get to experience the place first hand.
Stars, Stargazing and an Observatory
Bruneau Dunes State Park is set up for the amateur astronomer in mind. It is considered a Dark Site. There is a limited amount of lighting around the campsites, and the two campgrounds are situated well away from the highway. The lights around the restrooms are red-lights. Mountain Home – the closest town is far enough away and blocked by hills that there is a limited amount of horizon light. Unfortunately there is a big fire north of Boise and some nights the sky was blocked by smoke and clouds. Fortunately, since we are staying here for 8 nights a number of nights were clear.
I am not using a very sophisticated astrophotography setup. A Canon 60D is great but I’m using lenses that I picked up for real estate and hobby photography. I have an f4.0 medium zoom (17mm wide open) for Milky Way pictures. And I used 1600 ISO which is probably too high. 800 or 1000 would have less noise. But I am learning and with practice hope to get better.
Here are some AstroPhotos! If you look closely at the center of the picture marked Cassiopeia you can even see a smudge for the Andromeda Galaxy.
For $5 anyone can view the stars using the big Newtonian Reflector telescope at Bruneau Dunes. It is one of the largest observatories that is set up for public use only. We also got a blue light flashlight so we could chase tiny scorpions busy during the night on the dunes.
We are camping at Massacre Rocks State Park for a week after attending the FMCA Rally in Gillette. We have water and electric at our campsite, but no sewer – no big deal as they had really great bathrooms with wonderful showers. There are gray water dump stations scattered around so no worries about dumping. Our new sensors come in handy to monitor the tanks.
We spent lots of time watching the stars – from ‘ol Sol’s sunrises and sunsets to the stars and Milky Way. Even with smoke from fires near Boise we had a few really nice nights where we watched the stars. We used the binoculars for most of the viewing, but Jeff also set up the telescope for some stargazing. No camera work this time though. Jeff is getting better setting up the German Equatorial Mount telescope and hopes a “Go-To” motorized telescope is in his future!
The name is a bit of a misnomer. There was no actual Massacre, although a few settlers (10 by some accounts) were killed by Native Americans who felt threatened by all the wagons coming through their land. It was actually named Massacre Rocks in the early 1900’s as a way to promote the area for tourism. The area did have a lot of Native Americans along this part of the Oregon Trail, and settlers were wary of meeting them, fearing Shoshone attacks.
As the glaciers were retreating from the last Ice Age melt-water formed a great lake called Lake Bonneville. The Great Salt Lake is the largest remnant of this ancient lake and this is where Bonneville Salt Flats gets its name from. At its largest the lake was bigger and deeper than Lake Michigan. About 14,500 years ago erosion ripped open part of the lake disgorging 1,000 cubic miles of water in the space of months. For a while it created a huge waterfall on the other side of the Snake River from Massacre Rocks State Park. The gorge from the waterfall is impressive to see.
This area of the Snake River provided Native Americans and pioneer settlers a natural route to travel east and west. The Shoshone Indians populated this area in the 1800’s when pioneers were heading west. Wagon ruts can still be seen around the area of Massacre Rocks – the interstate actually runs along the Oregon Trail here. Register Rock has many carved names of the pioneers that were heading west on the Oregon Trail.
Walking, Exploring, Relaxing at Massacre Rocks State Park
After a hectic week at the FMCA Rally in Gillette it was nice to enjoy the sites around American Falls and Massacre Rocks State Park. We took the dogs down to a boat ramp for an old-dog swim (they got wet, then back to shore). There are trails where we walked and biked, flew the drone and caught up on reading.
The park has lots of walking and biking trails along with Register Rock. It is close to Interstate 86, and we got a spot up on a hill overlooking the Snake River that is a little farther away from the freeway. The campsites are spread out, campground very clean and nice.
Next up – we are excited to go to another Idaho State Park – one that has an observatory! Happy Trails and see you on the road.
We arrive in Gillette on Sunday the 15th of July for an early set-up because on Monday we have our new sensors getting installed. See the post here about the sensor installation. Tuesday we got our tanks washed out then the 98th FMCA Rally starts Wednesday.
The Rally Begins – Here’s a typical day:
Wednesday July 18th
Our first seminar Jeff attended is on LED lighting taught by Gregg Wilson. Just about the first question out was how many folks have LED lights in their coach, and Jeff’s hand shot up. The next question was how many have LED lights that are flickering? Again, Jeff’s hand shot up. We have a number of interior and exterior LED lights that are flickering that we got from M4 RV Lighting. We went with M4 because some of the more popular blogs we follow have used the lights from this company. Jeff is interested in getting some troubleshooting tips to diagnose the flickering.
Flickering Usually Means HEAT
Most often LED lights flicker because they get too hot, and inferior lights handle heat poorly. Sure enough, the lights that we are having problems with are the enclosed Valance lights at the ends of our cabinets in the living area. The light is enclosed in a triangular area 10″ x 10″ x 10″, so it is not like the lights are in a small space, but they don’t get any circulation.
Gregg designs, builds and sells LED lights that he has designed for the RV environment. The second set of lights are in the ceiling above the bed – again the rear ceiling gets less circulation than the front and is more susceptible to more heat. We elected to replace these lights with LEDs that have more directionality and are designed to allow more airflow around the light. In addition, we picked lights that are shielded to create less interference for TVs and amateur radios.
External LED lights – A PROBLEM!
Our other lights that flicker are running lights on the outside of the coach. Gregg informs us that there are no LEDs certified for use on the exterior unless they are fully encapsulated, and pass IP65, IP66 or IP67 standards for water proofing. Replacing a conventional running light with an LED is not legal and will likely not work in the long-term. Sure enough, most of these lights have been flickering since day 1. Next job is to replace these with original style light bulbs.
We also purchased two LED motion detector porch lights. Jeff had already replace the porch light by the door with an LED version, because want to have motion detectors for our porch lights especially while boondocking this was a good find. Since they are a) not running lights and b) enclosed there should be no issue with these lights. That project will be on a future blog post & video.
Orthopedic Principals and Applications
Christine went to the Orthopedic seminar, which was a good seminar as they talked about key stretches to do, especially when sitting hours during travel days. They also discussed keeping as limber as possible as we age because let’s face it… we are all getting older.
Next, we went to an Extended Warranty presentation by US Warranties. It was an interesting seminar for us because our original extended warranty that we got when we purchased Lola is expiring in August. We got several key take-aways:
Does it include roadside assistance?
Does it include towing?
Is there Trip Interruption services
Senior Citizen & Military Discounts
Does it include Consequential Loss Coverage (when an item that is covered damages other parts)
More on our experience shopping for extended warranties soon!
Other Notable Seminars
Freightliner Fireside Chat
Jeff attended the Freightliner Fireside Chat in Massachusetts 2 years ago and decided to attend this rally’s version. A representative from Freightliner RV manufacturing gave an interesting overview of some of the newer technology being used in current Freightliner RV chassis. In addition the standard Fireside Chat discussion is about basic chassis technology, troubleshooting and maintenance (as much as you can squeeze into an hour).
Griots Detailing 101
One of the things we like about the FMCA rally is that seminars are either general information (not vendor specific) or product oriented (vendor specific). Detailing a Coach 101 was a product specific seminar from Griots (Griots Detailing 101 from Griots Garage). Cool products at a premium price. Check out the link to Griots for some of their cool stuff.
The seminar on Air Brakes is presented by RVSafety.com. I took some notes, but could really have used a hand-out. There is a full course available from RVSafety on testing Air Brakes. I did find an article on testing Air Brakes at Family RVing website. Scroll down to the Pretrip Brake Inspection. Also a basic Understanding Air Brakes from the same FMCA author.
Roger Marble has been working with tires his entire life. He spent many years ‘in the pit’ on race courses and ‘in the lab’ at a major US tire manufacturer. Check his blog-site for lots of information on RV tires. This seminar was focused on tire failures and the forensics involved in determining the root cause of the failure. Fascinating, but probably a bit too in depth for our more practical needs. His website and his contributions on forums is invaluable. Guess it is important to have your tires checked on a regular basis.
Detail an RV in an Hour
This seminar was a combination general information and product specific. The non product specific portion of the seminar covered microfiber cloth manufacturing and quality and how to tell if you are getting a good microfiber cloth. The instructor from Almost Heaven Microfiber also talked about the advantages of using poles instead of ladders to wash and wax your RV. For the product specific portion of the seminar he displayed a variety of products including microfiber cloths of different texture for various tasks, poles to attach the cloths to as well as different wash and wax products. We ended up stopping by the booth and picking up a heavy duty pole, some spray wax for between full wax jobs and a variety of microfiber cloths.
Boondocking 101 & 102
Two full seminar sessions by Dave Helgerson all about boondocking safety, resources and planning. Because this is a very detailed subject matter too much to cover for this blog entry we will devote some quality time to create another video and blog just on what we learned about Dave’s boondocking teachings.
On Friday we take a break and drive to Devil’s Tower – the nation’s first National Monument. It was a nice drive with the dogs and a nice break from all the learning we are doing at the FMCA Gillette Rally.
After leaving White Sandy BLM Recreation area, we return to Paradise Valley near Livingston. Downtown Livingston has a neat train museum – the Livingston Depot. There are great displays for the building of the railroad that led to the explosion of settling of this area. The museum covers the tremendous effort required to lay tracks over and through the mountains. The railroad shipped goods from the mines, farms and ranches in the area to the big cities to the east and west, and tourists in to see Yellowstone. Early on Livingston was the gateway to the nation’s first National Park. Displays show the history of the railroad all through the mid-1900’s when trains were THE way to travel.
This area is also very popular with Hollywood, as it was used for many movies since movies started being made. There is an exhibit “Film in Montana” upstairs that showcase movies shot in Montana and old film editing equipment.
There is also an area for local artists. On exhibit is a gallery for a woman cowboy photographer (“Pure Quill: Photographs by Barbara Van Cleve.” ). She uses a lot of low-light and evening shots for an unusual portrayal of cowboy life. Check out her website or if you are near Livingston stop by the train depot during 2018. Very enjoyable. She has a great ‘eye’.
Paradise Valley KOA is a very nice full-featured camp with amazing views of the mountains south of Livingston Montana. See our earlier post here when we stopped on our way to Yellowstone National Park.
Driving south on Interstate 90 from Livingston Wyoming to Sheridan takes you along the eastern side of the Bighorn Mountains. At first the range is not impressive while driving along I-90 – there are few mountain peaks visible that we saw. You can easily drive by them and say, “huh, nice hills.” But drive into the mountains from Sheridan and almost immediately we are greeted with spectacular canyons and valleys with up-scale housing on US 14. Spend a few minutes at Shell Falls for a nice break.
Dense forests and wildflowers galore (mid-July) at the crest led to desert scrub on the east side following US 20. We stopped several times to enjoy the views.
Similar to our thoughts about the Big Horn Mountains, don’t judge a city by what you see from the freeway. Christine wants to see the King Saddlery in downtown Sheridan. After driving through the typical strip malls, once we reach the downtown area we find a very tricked out old town. The rodeo is in town, and the streets are packed. There are cool artsy statues along the main street and the shops are bustling. You can do a lot of people watching and whether you are checking out the cowboys or the cowboy watchers it’s fun.
Alright, I think we are going to see some saddles. Kings Saddlery is a legendary store about a legendary family of leather craftsmen. Just walking through the store and then the museum, which is in another building, it brings you to a life that was simple, but so full of hardships and joy. You can almost imagine what it was like living during the time that King Saddlery first came about and the life of the cowboys and their families. Don King started making saddles in 1946 followed by his sons John and Bob.
Failing Tank Sensors/Monitor on our 2008 Winnebago 39Z
Our tank sensors have gone from occasional faulty readings to hard failures about 80% of the time. We first had problems not long after purchasing Lola from La Mesa RV in Davis, California. But the problem was intermittent and Le Mesa said it was tank sludge build-up on the sides. In the past couple of years the failure changed to ALL the tank lights (water, black and the two grey tanks) being half-bright; all at the same time. We tried various tank cleaners with no help. Now, this seems to us that all lights being half-lit regardless of the content level to be strange behavior – not what we would expect if the tank sludge was building up. We last took Lola into La Mesa last fall, and the half-lit lights were displaying so we could show the service advisor.
La Mesa – Big FAIL
I couldn’t believe when he said it was probably sludge build-up inside the tanks. But, how could that effect ALL tank sensors at exactly the same time? Consistently? It seems to me it’s probably the wiring or more likely the display unit. When we picked Lola up after being with La Mesa for a MONTH, the service advisor said it was probably sludge in the tanks and the service technician put some ‘stuff’ in the tanks to help clean them out, and the extended warranty would not cover an intermittent problem (even though we showed it not working when we came in). This is not the first time that Davis La Mesa has not put forth the effort to correctly troubleshoot problems for us.
This last winter we lived in and out of Lola while remodeling a house and did not have the opportunity to fully check out our sensors until going to Lake Mindon in May. Once we started using the tanks what happened? You guessed it, ALL sensor lights are half lit again. Once in a while the sensors will show the correct levels. If you are attached to full hookups all the time, then not having sensors on the tanks is not a real big issue since you are connected. But, when you are dry camping or boondocking it is more important to keep track of your fresh and waste levels. And here at Thousand Trails Lake Minden we have no sewer hookups.
We have been looking at Garnet Industries SeeLevel systems for quite some time. They are a nice upgrade to the standard 1/3, 2/3, FULL in our Lola by giving percentage increments at more frequent intervals. They have also received good reviews from many sources. Depending on the tank size and number/length of sensors installed the percentage increments could be 5% or 8% more or less. We looked at getting new sensors at the FMCA rally we attended in 2016, but the problem was intermittent and the pricing was fairly expensive for our budget since we had other upgrades we were doing at the time. Since we are doing more dry camping and boondocking now we decided to upgrade the sensors at the next opportunity.
Many RVers live with bad tank sensors. For weekenders or vacationers it is probably a minor inconvenience. For full-timers and those who really rely on knowing their tank levels it is more important. Also for those folks like us who like things to work correctly it’s more than a minor irritance. We like things to work!
Garnet Industries at the FMCA Rally
Yellowstone was our number one objective this summer, and it so happens that the FMCA Rally is in Gillette, Wyoming – just across the state from Yellowstone. Not only that, but Garnet Industries is at the Rally. After a call to Garnet we contacted the installer and scheduled an installation for the Monday before the Rally (first events are Wednesday). We also signed up for a tank clean-out on Tuesday just to cover all the bases. We registered early for the Rally to get full hookups in case it is warm and we need to use the A/C for the dogs while we are out. That worked well with the tank clean-out because he needs sewer hookup for the flushing process.
An interesting side-note is that our spec sheet gave us capacities for the Fresh and Black tanks, and only one capacity for the Grey tank – but we have two grey tanks; a galley tank and a shower tank (that the washer also drains into). So I called Winnebago to find out the capacity of the two grey tanks. I was told that the galley tank was 20 gallons, and the big grey tank is 52 gallons – that matches the 72 gallon grey capacity in the owner manual. However, the black tank is 48 gallons – not the 62 gallons listed in the owners manual because of a mid-year production change.
[When I actually drained the galley tank after installing the sensors I took out 27 gallons of grey water (just reached the 100% sensor indicator!]
2008 Winnebago 39Z Specifications Vs. Corrected
Sensor Installation Planning
We arrived in Gillette on Sunday and after a bit of confusion got parked in our full hook-up section. Gene Riffel of Ruffnit RV stopped by as scheduled at 9. After explaining the process he went through and checked out the configuration of our tanks and the sensor display. We originally wanted to install the bluetooth version thinking that the installation would be easier (cheaper) plus would give us the capability to monitor the tank levels outside while filling the fresh water or dumping. However the bluetooth model does not support 4 tanks at this time, so we went with 2 monitor installations – one inside and one outside in the water/sewer bay. We also elected to keep the old sensor display for the LP meter and place the new SeeLevel monitor to the side of the existing control panels.
Our tanks were partially full and we did not dump on purpose so the new sensors could be tested with tanks that have content.
Our fresh water tank is enclosed in a steel shell. Towards the front where the overflow exits the tank there is an access panel. Once the panel is removed easy access to the tank allows Gene to install the new sensors.
Main Grey Tank and Black Tank
To access the main grey tank and the black tank the access panel above the tank gates in the water/sewer bay needs to be removed. Once that is put aside, there is very tight access to the sides of the grey tank (on the left) and black tank (center). Here, another decision point came into play. Neither of these tanks are square! They have a drop-down section that Gene estimated to be around 3 or 4 gallons; plus there is a seam. Option 1 is to put 2 sensor strips in. One above the seam and one below. The second option would be to leave the lower drop-down section without a sensor. We decided to leave the lower portion of the tank without a sensor and cover the upper section. The savings of not getting another package of sensors covers a portion of the cost of the second monitor.
Access to the galley tank is through the main power bay (where the power cord and inverter etc. is). The tank is installed at a slight incline, so the sensor can’t be placed where it will be 100% accurate. Again, we tried to get the top portion of the tank metered. [We checked this out while dry camping the next month and found that when the first indication above 0% (which is 8%) first lit up we drained an 11 gallons. This gave us a gauge covering gallons 12-27 which is the most important range for us, but were surprised it did not cover more.]