Saturday, February 8, 2020

Homemade Thermal Pack for our Four Wheel Camper

Taco Belle with her Taco Shell in our driveway in Northern New Mexico

Our last camper, Humphrey, was a homemade Nissan NV van. We had a blast designing the layout, building the bed/couch and even sewed the pads. When we upgraded to our Four Wheel Camper - Fleet model, we opted to have FWC build out the pop-up camper for us. One option we didn't pick was the cold weather thermal pack. The material of our pop-up camper is a marine style vinyl side liner. We didn't use any insulation in our van, so we thought this would be okay. We did select the forced air heater that runs off our propane. LOVE IT!!

Our last camping to eastern Arizona was colder than we expected in the low 20's. During a walk at Chiricahua National Monument campground, we ran into a fellow Four Wheel Camper. He had created a wrap for the outside of his camper from reflectix. That began our search for alternatives for a thermal pack. We found it on Wander the from an old post by ski3pin in Nov 2011.

We spent $129 to buy the material from Seattle Fabrics online. We ordered FEV 54" Evolutin IV/Block it 400 @ $12.50 per linear yards. I have been wanting to buy a sewing machine for awhile.  I had to borrow one from my good friend Cathy to make the cushions for our van back in 2012. So, with the cost of the sewing machine, we are still spending less than 1/2 the price of buying the custom liner from FWC.

We are happy so far and notice a big difference in the temperature inside the camper. We still need to hem the liner and attach the velcro to the liner. For now, we are just using the liner with large binder clips which also works.

I will do a follow-up blog once we have hemmed, attached the velcro and tested it in the wild. I also need to create openings in the lining so we can open the windows even with the thermal pack on.

I've been wanting a sewing machine for awhile now because I also want to mend clothes. We like to wear things until they are not usable anymore. The sewing machine will make this much easier.

Up Next: Eastern Arizona Winter Camping Trip

This is the uncut liner material.
Both sides of the fabric we selected from Seattle Fabrics

We measured carefully and used a board to
protect our dining room table. We cut the fabric
using the OFLA rotary cutter. 

We measured twice and cut once leaving extra room
for the hem

Testing the new liner

Our sock monkeys approve!

OLFA 60 mm rotary cutter made the job super easy!

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Rocky Mountain Overland Rally and Solar-Battery Upgrade

The Rally included a Four Wheel Camper area.
The white arrow is pointing to our rig.  

Rocky Mountain Four Wheel Camper (RMFWC) and Juniper Overland invited us to attend the inaugural Rocky Mountain Overland Rally in Gunnison, Colorado at the I Bar Ranch. We had never been to a rally before and were curious. The rally offered nightly campfire raffles, happy hours, an on-site technical course, instruction, classes and vendor demos. They delivered! If you ever get a chance to go to a concert at the I Bar Ranch or to attend an Overland Rally - jump at the opportunity. You will not be disappointed.  Huge thanks to Chris and Josh for the invite!

When we bought our Four Wheel Camper, we didn't have a solar system installed because we knew we wanted to get an upgraded battery and solar set up that would work for us. Greg wired our van himself and we used a portable solar panel to charge up the house battery which worked really well. But, we wanted something that would be more permanent and where we could solar up even when on a hike.

Greg and I both use cpap machines. We made sure we got the lowest energy usage cpaps, but they are still energy hogs. Additionally, our Four Wheel Camper frig is a two way, meaning it operates using battery or shore power.

Matt of Off-Grid Engineering's
rig at Overland Rally
One goal we had for attending the Rocky Mountain Overland Rally was to see other folks solar/battery setup and to possibly meet vendors who could help us plan the right battery/solar build. On the last day of the rally, we walked around to all the vendors booths. We met Matt of Off-Grid Engineering and we could tell he was the one. Greg and Matt hit it off right ways. I tried to keep up with the battery geek talk between the two of them, but didn't succeed. Matt got what we were looking for and had great suggestions. I also appreciate that he was able to come down to my level to explain the build in plain terms for a novice like me. Greg has been researching components for awhile. We had already purchased some parts including the flexible solar panels. Matt supplied the missing pieces, the labor and the expertise! Greg dropped off the camper on Thursday morning and by Friday at 11 a.m. our dream setup was done. We are very, very pleased so far! More on this later in this post.

Trail Ride coming and going

We love going to Gunnison and nearby Crested Butte. The first day of the rally, we signed up for a trail ride from the rally site to Crested Butte past Gothic to Emerald Lake. We were a little nervous as this was our first time on a rough 4x4 road with the camper on the Taco or travelling with a group. It was fun although we all had to turn around before we made it to the lake because of a landslide. We were both really happy with how the Taco Shell performed and how comfortable we felt. We drove back on our own and stopped for a hike and to enjoy the beautiful wildflowers.

The flowers were amazing even
though we missed the peak
Even though it was in the 80's the hike to the waterfall overlook was spectacular. We never get tired of the awesome views from the Gothic area.

Back at the rally, we watched folks navigate the technical course and marveled at their skills. We hope to feel confident enough to do the course at a future rally. We spent quite a bit of time watching a really big rig get stuck on the course and an even bigger rig come and pull it out. Excellent "demo" of recovery gear.

To the rescue 

The nightly campfires and prize drawings was a lot of fun. We also enjoyed just sitting by our camper and chatting with other Four Wheel Camper owners. A great group of folks.

Very impressive campfire at the I Bar Ranch
Back to our build.  I am going to quote Matt from Off-Grid Engineering with the technical specs of what he did for us. His description is below in blue and the following five photos are by Off-Grid Engineering of our rig's solar setup. We are VERY happy with Matt's customer service, vision and execution! Check out his website at

@sockmonkeytrekkers are planning to get some serious use out of their new Tacoma/FWC combo... but first they needed a bit of an electrical upgrade. 

We started by removing the factory dual purpose 79 amp hour battery and isolator. Then we upgraded the size of the charging wire from 10 AWG wire to 4 AWG welding cable front to back, added a @redarc electronics 40 amp DC to DC charger, 200 watts of solar, a Victron Energy solar charge controller (with Bluetooth), and two 6 volt AGM batteries for a total of 250 amp hours! 

The before set up
Matt installed our two flexible solar panels on the roof

New batteries fit perfectly
although a tight squeeze

Greg previously bought this Victron Energy controller.
It has a bluetooth function so we
can monitor from our phone! 

REDARC  DC to DC Charger

Greg will do a blog down the road with his full review of our new solar-battery system when we have been able to test it out more. But, he reports that the first night was great and he enjoyed being able to check the battery levels from his phone and the fact that the roof panels are constantly recharging the system. We are very happy campers!   

Stopped for lunch at Little Molas Lake on the way home
from the Rocky Mountain Overland Rally

Check out Rocky Mountain Four Wheel Camper at

Check out Juniper Overland at

For more info on the Rocky Mountain Overland Rally visit

Friday, August 16, 2019

Update: Taco Shell

Goodbye Humphrey - you served us well! 

We are still active on Instagram and on a personal level on Facebook, but we have neglected our blog over the past year.  Life doesn't always align with adventure. I lived a large part of my childhood with my Aunt and Uncle. Four out of our six parents have had serious health problems involving multiple surgeries, ongoing chemo, home treatments and in one instance hospice. The philosophy of do your adventures now while you are still healthy enough smacks into the reality of what life throws at people you love.  So, we have been focusing on what is most important to us - which is spending time with our family. My parents live in Southern California, my aunt and uncle in Northern California and Greg's folks are here in Los Alamos, New Mexico.

Don't get me wrong, we have still squeezed in plenty of quick adventures, but not as many as we normally would. But, being home bound has also allowed us to focus on a VERY exciting project. I will retire in twenty-four months! As with many full-timers, we have gone back and forth and back again deciding what type of rv/truck camper/van to live in post-retirement.

Since 2011, we've loved adventuring in our Nissan NV van. Greg built out the van and it was perfect with one exception. The Nissan isn't four wheel drive. Since we primarily boondock down rough roads, four wheel drive would be very nice. We also considered a 4x4 conversion for the van. The price tag is decent, but the size of our van would still be an issue. What to do????

After much debate, research and many hours of youtube watching, we came to a decision. Greg's Mom was intrigued by the Aliner pop-up aframe trailer (Thanks Slim Potatohead) and wanted to buy one since they had to sell their C-Class RV due to health reasons. Our plan was for her to buy an Aliner and for us to get a Toyota Tacoma and pop a Four Wheel Camper Fleet model on it. Once we made the decision it all fell into place quickly. In March, Greg's folks got the Aliner and we purchased a new Toyota Tacoma TRD. A few weeks later we ordered a Four Wheel Camper Fleet model from Rocky Mountain Four Wheel Camper/Juniper Overland (RMFWC).  Chris Janeway at RMFWC (Arvada, Colorado) was extremely patient with our multitude of questions and numerous phone calls. We had been to the Overland Expo back in 2016 and toured both Four Wheel Campers and Hallmark Campers. We were impressed by both manufacturers. But, it came down to fit and weight. Having already done a build with our van, we decided to go for the side dinette, fleet model with flush sink and stove and the 2 way frig.  We passed on a water heater, but did get the furnace.

Our new Toyota Tacoma at the
Great Sand Dunes National Park
Toyota Tacoma with Greg's folks' Aliner Titanium
at Bandelier National Monument

The Toyota is perfect for towing the Aliner.

Greg and his Mom boondocking in the
Jemez Mountains inside the Aliner

We placed our order with Chris at RMFWC in late March and took delivery in late June. But, it was so worth the wait. Also, with all the family obligations, the wait went by very quickly. We worked with Chris of Rocky Mountain Four Wheel Camper and Josh Abram of Juniper Overland to plan a small lift to help the Toyota handle the weight of the camper while towing a trailer. When they installed the camper, they installed Dobinson suspension, upper control arms, struts, shocks and airbags since the driver side is carrying so much more weight than the passenger.   

Greg checking out sitting in the camper with the top down. 

I LOVE the flush sink and stove top! 

The bed is queen size and really comfortable.
We are able to sleep without any mattress topper. 

We boondocked near Gunnison, Colorado
during 4th of July week. 
View from the bed of our cozy, comfy camper. 
It took a few head bumps to learn the right way to climb into the camper through the smaller back door. But, once you get the hang of it - piece of cake. Once you are inside, the camper is VERY comfy and surprisingly roomy.  We don't have the smallest model, but we do have a small model, but I have to say it is the perfect size for the two of us. Colorado is full of mosquitoes this summer due to all the rain and late snows. Besides 4 wheel drive, the best thing about the camper to me is the ability to cook and eat indoors and SCREENS on all the windows and doors. A big improvement over our van.

The table is the perfect size for the
two of us and our sporks

Our taco shell in its happy place! 

UP NEXT - Rocky Mountain Overland Rally & Solar/Battery Upgrade

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Catching Up - Part 8 - December 2017 - Greg heads to AZ: Picacho Peak, El Dorado Hot Springs, Piestewa Peak, Phoenix, Sedona, Twin Arrows, Sandia Resort & Casino- New Mexico

I (Greg) took a trip to Arizona to get out of the cold winter of Los Alamos for a few days.

The first stop was Faywood Hot Springs for a night soak in their hot springs pools. See earlier blogs for more about Faywood.

Lunch at Tuscon Sweet Tomatoes.  
I wanted to hike up to Picacho Peak, so staying at Picacho Peak State Park made sense. (Electric hookups for about $25 with nice shower/bathrooms).  Arriving just before sunset, I found plenty of sites to choose from. Before bed, a good hike around the entire park area was called for. After dark, the walk was fun with beautiful lights in the distance.

My campsite at Picacho Peak State Park.

The next day, I headed up the front trail (Hunter Trail) to Picacho Peak. It's not an easy hike (Rated: Difficult). Bring a lot of water. When I got to the saddle, I discovered that the trail dropped quite a long ways down the other side before it rose again to head to the top. I wasn't really ready for that drop and decided I wouldn't go all the way to the top on this visit.  There is a trail from the back side (Sunset Vista Trail) that doesn't do this unexpected up, down, up. Next time, I will take the back trail up to the top. 2-3 liters of water is recommended for these trails.

Looking down from the hike up Picacho Peak.

The view on the hike up Pacacho Peak.

Sign at the Saddle of Pacacho Peak.

Meanwhile, back in Los Alamos.

After my partial hike up Picacho Peak, I headed north to the El Dorado Hot Springs in Tonapah, AZ. El Dorado is a funky place with nice hot springs tubs. If you camp there you get 2 hours of private hot springs use. There is also a public area to soak 24hrs.

I arrived on an early December Thursday. The place was pretty much empty.  I signed up to soak in the Desert View pool around sunset time. It was great. After my hour, and wanting more soaking time, I headed to the public area called "Desert Pete."  I was the only one in the Desert Pete area my whole time there and enjoyed a full moon while laying on my back in the largest of the hot pools.

I have reviewed El Dorado Hot Springs in a past blog HERE.  It's $30 for 1 person to camp, $50 for two. $20 more for each person. (kids $10). Add $5 for access to an electric plug.

I got the Katie's Corner camp site and paid the extra $5 for an electric connection. You have to hunt for a working 15amp connection. Bring a really long electric extension, you might need it.

"Desert View" hot springs tub at El Dorado Hot Springs.
After my stay at El Dorado Hot Springs, I wanted to find a nice hike in the Phoenix area.  The Piestewa Peak Summit Trail looked like a great hike, so I programmed Google Maps to get me there.

Piestewa Peak turned out to be a really great hike. It's a short distance hike at 1.2 miles up but you rise 1,200 feet, so it is a heart pumper! There are fantastic views at the rugged top.

It's a popular hike.  Get there early. I got one of the last parking spots at 2:30 pm.

Lots of folks hiking up to Piestewa Peak. 
Greg at the top of Piestewa Peak.

The top of Piestewa Peak.

Sunset on the way down Piestewa Peak.
After the hike, being hungry, I found a store nearby to re-supply and then I found a Sweet Tomatoes for dinner. After dinner, I took a cruise through Scottsdale and ended up at a hospital employee parking lot in Phoenix. There was tons of empty space at night. It was a little dicey, as security was running around, but no one bothered me and I slept well and left early in the morning for my next stop.  (My van is setup for stealth.)

Stealth overnight at the Maricopa Medical Center/Hospital employee parking lot.

In the morning, I headed to Papago Park in order to eat my breakfast and then to take the short stroll up to Hole in the Rock.

When I was a young lad, my parents bought me a Batman Cape and mask for my birthday. I still remember clearly the moment when I was climbing up to Hole in the Rock and some older boys made fun of my batman outfit.

Ah, the little traumas of life!

Greg at Hole in the Rock at Papago Park, Phoenix, AZ, sans Batman Outfit. (I do have my "utility belt" or sling.)

Looking through the Hole in the Rock with van below.
 After programming my Google Maps, it was off to Sedona Arizona. My research said that "Devil's Bridge" was a great hike in the Sedona area. I headed for the trail head.

Map of trails northwest of Sedona, AZ
A couple of nice young women from Georga were going at my pace and they offered to take my photo and I took theirs on Devil's bridge.

On the trail to Devil's Bridge northwest of Sedona, AZ.

View from the trail to Devil's Bridge.

A couple getting a photo on Devil's Bridge.

Georga ladies on Devil's Bridge.
 After the Devil's bridge hike, I was ready to head for home.  I would stop at Twin Arrows Casino Resort just east of Flagstaff on Highway 40. Twin Arrows has a good buffet for a nice dinner. I slept well in the casino's RV parking area.

Driving through Sedona, AZ.

Buffet meal at Twin Arrows Casino Resort

Twin Arrows Breafast Cafe.
In the morning, it was time to truck on home. I took a rest-stop for a hike at the Sandia Resort and Casino in Albuquerque. The Casino was all dolled up for the Christmas season.

Christmas Tree at Sandia Resort & Casino.

A nice walk around Sandia Resort & Casino looking up to the Sandia Peaks.
Sandia Resort & Casino use to allow RV overnight parking in the northwest lot. I asked the doorman guy why there were no RVs now. He said a new manager had banded RVs after the Balloon Fiesta RV parking got out of control.  He also said that a new manager was coming in and it sounds like this new manager will allow some RV parking in the future. I hope they do. It's a nice place to stop for the night and they have a good buffet. The casino is nice. Seems like a waste to have all these empty parking lots when instead you could have customers dropping dollars in your tills.

The trip was a nice break from the frigid December weather of Los Alamos.

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