After a lot of remote camping, we needed a day to get caught up on mundane tasks, which I thought I should describe. We do most of our shopping at Wal-Mart, because the chain is widespread and has most of what we need at reasonable cost. In addition, the stores have similar inventories and are laid out fairly consistently, which saves time. I often post this blog from a Wal-Mart parking lot, as the signal we have where we camp is usually not strong enough to deal with larger images (although the antenna and booster I installed are often able to pull in a signal good enough for e-mail, even where the smartphones show no service).
After shopping we grabbed a meal out, and headed towards Oklahoma. In the late afternoon, we pulled into a private RV campground. Eileen did our laundry, which amounts to two loads. We carry about 9 sets of clothes and wear them a couple of days apiece in cooler weather. Everything is quick-drying, light-weight synthetic fabrics so they are easy to wash and dry. I hooked up electric to top off the two lithium batteries and recalibrate the power meter; filled the water tank; dumped the cassette toilet and refilled its flush water; and dumped the gray water. The toilet and gray water need to be maintained once a week. The batteries don’t normally need to be charged externally; I hooked up just because the site came with electric, so I took advantage of it. We typically use 10% to 20% of battery capacity per night of camping, depending on weather (fans or furnace overnight for hot or cold weather use extra power). The batteries are charged while driving (from the truck alternator) at a rate approaching 10% per hour, as well as being replenished by the solar panel (perhaps up to 15% per day). So the electrical system is self-sustaining, and we can stay in one place without moving for at least 4 days.
With everything maintained, we reached Black Kettle National Grassland (NG) on Oklahoma the next day. We walked two trails, one on the Washita Battleground, and were finally able to start learning some of the prairie grasses. Some plants from last year had withstood the winter weather and were as much as 8 feet tall, giving an idea what this area could look like when all the grasses were at their full height in the autumn. Our most exciting sighting was of three Harris’ Sparrows in a large flock of White-crowned Sparrows. Harris’ Sparrow breeds in a relatively small and difficultly accessible area of the arctic, and normally winters just in the southern Great Plains. I have only seen this species a few times before, and always outside of its normal range, so this sighting on their typical wintering grounds was a treat.
After that first afternoon of sunshine, we had two days of almost uninterrupted rain, and so we mostly sat tight and caught up on indoor activities. I wrote a couple blog posts, analyzed our first full month of expenses on the road (well below budget!), and examined grass specimens that we grabbed while on a muddy hike during a brief interlude in the rain. Eileen studied gaits in a mammal tracking guide, made a number of drawings, and read. Our campsite was in a very nice wildlife viewing area that featured a pair of Barred Owls, which we heard frequently and saw several times. Another interesting sighting was of an interacting pair of Norther Flickers. The female appeared to be a typical yellow-shafted subspecies, and the male exhibited the normal characteristics of the red-shafted subspecies, except it had a trace of red on the nape, indicating some yellow-shafted parentage. These two subspecies meet and intergrade extensively on the Great Plains, which is why they were combined into a single species about four decades ago.
Before leaving Black Kettle NG, we got in one more short day of field work in sunshine, with several new wildflowers, and great looks at a pair of Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrels, a classic prairie species. We’d have liked one additional day to explore this NG, but our water system in the camper was acting up and we wanted to try replacing the water pump. So we headed for Amarillo, TX, a few hours away, to get parts before the weekend.
We next camped at McClellan Creek NG, east of Amarillo. The weather was awful (cold, rainy, and windy) and the NG of limited interest as it was small and largely devoted to trails for all-terrain vehicles. But it gave us a chance to work on the water system with water and electricity at hand. Replacing the water pump did not improve things much, so I talked with Bryan Wheat of Alaskan Campers, and we tentatively isolated a problem with a check valve. I was able to “fix” this temporarily using an extra shutoff valve I had, and after running water through the system for a while to displace air pockets, the system appeared to be functioning properly.
Our next stop was Palo Duro Canyon, south of Amarillo. This is a genuine tourist destination; the colorful canyon was carved by the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River. It has interesting erosional features called hoodoos, which are spires of soft rock that were protected by hard caprock on top, and so were left behind when everything around them eroded away. There is a good trail system, though many were closed due to flood damage, a regular winter occurrence. We did a nice 6-mile loop hike on a 90° day, seeing and hearing lots of Roadrunners. Eileen enjoyed photographing Wild Turkeys engaged in their courtship displays across from our campsite. We also saw our first Scissor-tailed Flycatcher of the trip; this ethereal bird breeds in Texas, Oklahoma, and parts of adjacent states.
But after just one day of good weather, we again experienced rain and decided to move on, hoping to put our water issues – both meteorological and camper-related – behind us.