Our second year as full-time Airstream dwellers/digital nomads/travelers has come and gone. We added a few new states to our travel map (North Dakota, Nebraska, and Idaho), crossed the northern border for the first time (it won’t be the last time), and traveled 7,607 miles (just 61 miles less than last year). Our longest drive day was 377 miles and our shortest was 6.5 miles. We averaged $46.63/night in lodging costs, thanks to spending 45 days in a condo/hotels at various times throughout the year while our converter was fixed, solar panels were installed, and modifications were done to the interior.
We continued to learn more about ourselves, our Airstream, our country, and the nomadic lifestyle. Here’s a look back at our second year on the road:
We visited 13 National Park Service sites, with 8 of them being new to us:
We also revisited Death Valley, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Glacier, and Mount Rushmore.
With our return visit to South Dakota, we were able to conquer the remaining 3 sites of South Dakota’s Great 8, the other 5 of which we saw last summer:
The other 5 are Mount Rushmore, Badlands National Park, Custer State Park, Wind Cave National Park and the Missouri River.
We hiked, and hiked, and hiked…
and paddled, and paddled, and paddled…
and soaked, and soaked, and soaked.
We chased waterfalls…
but we also stuck to the rivers…
and the lakes that we’re (not) used to.
We drank beer…
We rode a gondola in Palm Springs…
and one in Banff.
(Have I mentioned I don’t like gondolas?)
We saw where Forrest Gump ended his run…
and where Thelma and Louise drove off a cliff.
We saw lots of wildlife…
and visited the geographic center of the country.
We added four new tires,
two new batteries,
four new solar panels,
and a couch and a desk.
We had visitors in Las Vegas; Hurricane, UT; Custer, SD; and Glacier National Park:
Our second year on the road was fantastically fun and memorable, even with the issues we encountered. (I’m looking at you flat tire and junk converter.) All of the inconveniences we deal with are by far worth the amazing places we get to experience. Thanks for following along and we hope you stick around for 2020, our third year on the road — although we’re not really sure what’s in store yet!
Where to begin? I guess I’ll begin with how we ended up in Albuquerque when it wasn’t part of the plan.
We were in Hurricane, Utah and were supposed to be moving on to spending the weekend in Zion National Park at Watchman Campground. We drove through the campground a week before when we visited Zion and we weren’t super impressed. Due to the crazy winter the area had been having, there were parts of the campground that were under water. The original loop that we had reserved our site in was all torn up and closed. There was also a lot of work being done in the area surrounding the campground and nearby visitor center. I don’t know if this was due to weather-related issues or planned. Regardless, we weren’t super pumped about the current conditions of the campground, but we would deal with it. As the weekend approached, the weather outlook was not so great, adding to our apprehension. We made the decision to cancel our two nights, which would’ve been Friday to Sunday, and start driving towards our next destination, Santa Fe. We didn’t want to stay in Zion just for the sake of staying in Zion — we wanted to enjoy it, including the site and the weather. Besides, we’d be back in Hurricane in a month, staying at a place a little closer to Zion than Sand Hollow State Park is, and we’d make sure to explore the Park more then.
We found Valles RV Park in Mexican Hat, Utah on Campendium. Mexican Hat is home to Monument Valley and the Valley of the Gods. I had seem so many pictures of the area and wanted to see it for myself. We decided to spend two nights here, Friday and Saturday, before we moved on to Santa Fe. After spending one night, we decided to leave Mexican Hat early Saturday morning. You can read more about why here.
I know, I know. We’re starting to sound super picky about the places we stay. We really aren’t, but when something doesn’t feel right for whatever reason, we listen to our instincts. It’s done well for us so far, and as you’ll soon read, our instincts didn’t fail us here.
While we were still in Mexican Hat Friday night, we had already decided we were leaving in the morning; therefore, we needed to figure out where we were going. We had a reservation for one night in Kirtland, New Mexico on Sunday, as our original plan had been Zion –> Kirtland –> Santa Fe. We decided our new route would take us from Mexican Hat –> Albuquerque –> Santa Fe, with two nights (Saturday and Sunday) at the Albuquerque KOA. Yay, we had a plan!
When we arrived in Albuquerque Saturday afternoon after six rough hours of driving on Northern New Mexico’s lovely highways, we pulled into what is the nicest KOA Journey that we’ve stayed at. As we were getting set up, I noticed an issue with the converter fan. The converter is what converts the 120 volts of AC shore power to 12 volts of DC to supply power to all of the 12 volt appliances and accessories in the trailer. The converter basically prevents the batteries from draining when you’re plugged in. The converter fan helps to cool the converter unit down when needed. There was no need for the fan to be kicking in, yet it was — very, very often. We also noticed that any time the fan kicked in, the battery voltage would drop from the usual 13.6 to as low as 12.3, which is pretty low but not quite in the danger zone yet. By danger zone, I mean so low that the batteries won’t recover and recharge and are basically dead.
We had no idea what was going on so we got on the Google and various Airstream forums. From everything we read, it seemed as though our batteries were on their way out. This made sense, as the batteries were still the factory installed batteries which are not known to have the best longevity. We looked online to find a place nearby that we could get new batteries and low and behold — Airstream of New Mexico was only a half mile away! We drove over to Airstream and explained what was happening and they agreed with us; it sounded like the batteries. We bought two new ones and made our way back to the KOA where we figured out how to swap them out.
Here’s the thing, neither one of us is very mechanically inclined. Anything electrical is foreign to us and the idea of having to fix something electrical is a bit terrifying. This is a good time to mention that I have no idea if I’m using the proper terms for everything. Please do not take anything I’ve typed here as sacred, legit information. Before pulling the old batteries, we took pictures and notes. We successfully removed the old and installed the new! We were so proud of ourselves that we fixed our issue. That is, until we plugged back in and realized that, in fact, the issue had not been fixed. The converter fan still kept running for seemingly no reason and the battery voltage still kept decreasing when the fan kicked in. We started to notice exactly WHEN the fan would kick on, and it seemed to be whenever there was a certain level of movement in the trailer. Whenever the door was slammed or a cabinet or drawer was closed, it would kick on. So this changed our course of thinking. By this time, Airstream of New Mexico was closed for the day, so we weren’t able to get their input. We eventually figured out that if the fan kicked on, we could get it to kick off by pressing on the metal panel that is in front of it. This made us think that something was loose, so Travis removed the metal panel and removed the circuit board. He sprayed the area with air and made sure all of the connections were tight. He put everything back together and it seemed to work for a while. The fan didn’t kick in and the batteries stayed at their normal level — until they didn’t.
Just a reminder, this was on Saturday. Not only was Airstream of New Mexico closed for the day, but they were closed until Tuesday — they aren’t open Sundays and Mondays. We were supposed to be driving to Santa Fe on Monday where we would be spending two weeks. And to make things more complex, Travis was supposed to fly out of Santa Fe on Friday for a week-long business trip to Minnesota. We decided that we would definitely need to book a third night, Monday, at the KOA so that we could call Airstream Tuesday morning and try to get the trailer in to get looked at. We made it through the weekend by being careful about making the fan kick in, pulling the panel off for a second time to make sure everything was connected tight, and unplugging the trailer whenever we left just to be on the safe side.
Fast forward to Tuesday morning. We called Airstream and….
….they told us they had no service appointments available until May, a good five or six weeks away. Well, crap.
Due to Travis’s impending business trip, we needed to make some decisions. We felt that no matter what, we would be staying in Albuquerque and not going to Santa Fe. This meant we needed to change his flight. We wouldn’t be able to stay in the trailer in its current state, so we booked a room at the Homewood Suites for the next week and a half. This still didn’t take care of what to do with the trailer, so we decided to go in to Airstream to plead our case. We explained our situation. We explained that we’re full timers so unfortunately, this wasn’t as easy as just not using the trailer until it could get fixed. Even though they weren’t able to look at it, they did have a solution. They recommended another RV service center (Tom’s) down the street from them that they do work with often. Airstream called Tom’s and they said if we could bring it in right now, they could fix it. Yay! We hurried back to the KOA and quickly got the Airstream hitched up to take over to Tom’s.
For those of you that aren’t RVers, let me explain what ‘quickly’ means. We had to disconnect the sewer hose, water hose, cable cord, and electric cord. We had to raise the stabilizers. We had to put the hitch on the truck and back it up to hitch up the trailer. We had to remove the chocks and roll off the levelers. As we weren’t getting on the highway, we didn’t hook up our sway control bars, which saved us a step. Inside, we had to get everything off the kitchen and bathroom counters and secure them for towing. Thankfully, the night before we had proactively taken everything out of the fridge and freezer and shut it off, thinking we would be dropping the trailer off at Airstream in the morning. I then ran into the KOA office and extended our stay again, as we were supposed to check out and leave by noon. We extended our stay for a week and a half, thinking we could just cancel the hotel. After all that, we got it over to Tom’s and they started working on it immediately. After checking things out, they agreed that the converter needed to be replaced. Only one problem — they didn’t have one to replace it. The parts supplier in town that they usually get their parts from didn’t have one. Airstream didn’t have one. It was determined that they would order one, receive it the next day, and then install it, meaning we were taking the Airstream back to the KOA for the night and would bring it back again the next day.
Fast forward a few hours and we receive a call from Airstream. I don’t know what was discussed between Tom’s and Airstream, but all of a sudden Airstream was like, bring it in so our certified Airstream technician can take a look at it and we can see if it’s covered by warranty. So, we did. We hadn’t hooked anything back up again when we returned from Tom’s, so we were able to get it over to Airstream pretty quickly.
Also, please keep in mind that we have a small, 14-year-old, grumpy dog that usually gets a bit anxious on travel days. He had no clue what was going on and his anxiety added to our stress as well.
We got the trailer to Airstream, the technician inspected it, confirmed there was an issue with the converter, and they submitted it to Airstream (corporate) to make sure it would be covered under warranty (we’re still under our two-year warranty). Thankfully, it was. But again, the issue arose that they didn’t have the part to replace and would have to order it.
At this point, Travis and I decided that we just wanted to leave the trailer with them and stay in the hotel. He would be leaving on his trip in three days and felt more comfortable with us being in a hotel rather than the trailer. The other issue is that I don’t tow the trailer, so it wouldn’t have been possible for us to go back to the KOA and for me to bring the trailer to Airstream when the part came in. They were 100% fine with that, so then the process of packing everything we needed to take with us began. Sounds easy, right? Well….
Again, we had already assumed we weren’t going to be in the trailer for a few days, so we had packed some stuff. It was Tuesday. Travis was leaving on Friday and would return the following Friday. We wouldn’t be able to pick the Airstream up until Saturday after he got back, so this meant we’d (me & the dog) would be in the hotel for 11 nights. Travis needed to pack everything he needed for his business trip. We needed everything necessary in order for us to work. We needed clothes and dog stuff and bathroom stuff and we packed up all the dry food too, not knowing what we would need. After getting everything we needed loaded into the truck (though I did make another run to the Airstream after realizing we forgot some things) we handed the keys off, stopped at the KOA to cancel our remaining stay, and made our way to the hotel.
The next ten days were pretty uneventful. Airstream called to say they’d be receiving the part on Tuesday. Travis went on his business trip. When Airstream received the part, they called to say that they put us on the schedule for Thursday morning. Travis was able to shorten his trip by a day and fly back Thursday night. This allowed us to pick the Airstream up Friday and stay one more night at the KOA to make sure everything was working properly before we left town on Saturday. We were able to get everything moved back into the trailer, do laundry, clean, and get the fridge turned back on to get it ready for food.
For some reason I did something that I never do the day before we tow — I turned the tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) on to make sure the tire pressure was good. It wasn’t. One of our tires was reading at 33psi when it should be about 65psi. We inspected the tire and didn’t see anything wrong with it. We measured the pressure with both a tire pressure gauge and the air compressor to make sure the tire pressure monitoring system wasn’t acting up. Everything showed around 33psi. There were only really two explanations. One, someone let air out. Two, the tire was punctured. The first option didn’t make sense so we had to assume that it was the second. While you can pick up a nail or some other sharp object anywhere, the only thing we can figure is that something happened to the tire when the trailer was at Airstream. Seeing as anywhere that could help us was closed for the day, we filled the tire and waited until the next morning to make phone calls. Even though we didn’t think they did, we called Airstream to see if they sold tires. They do not, but said they use Discount Tire for all their tire needs, which was going to be our next call anyway. We called Discount Tire and they said all of their appointments were booked, but they weren’t busy yet, so if we could get there soon, they could take care of us. We had already prepped the Airstream for towing that morning as we waited for Airstream and Discount Tire to open, so we were able to hitch up and get there pretty quickly. They had us checked in even before we pulled in the driveway and they changed out all four tires in about 45 minutes. We decided to buy four new tires because the tires that come on an Airstream aren’t the best quality. We upgraded to Goodyear Endurance, which can carry more weight, have a higher speed rating, and just seem to more durable all around. We didn’t even have them look at the flat tire to see what was wrong with it, because it didn’t matter to us at this point.
So, after new batteries, a new converter, and new tires — we were finally on our way! If you’re ever in the Albuquerque area and are need in of assistance, I cannot praise these businesses enough: Airstream of New Mexico, Albuquerque KOA Journey, Homewood Suites Albuquerque Uptown, and Discount Tire located at 1119 Juan Tablo Blvd. Everyone was so nice and helpful and understanding and they all provided excellent service on a moment’s notice.
As you can see, a few of the gut decisions we made brought us to Albuquerque which brought us to Airstream of New Mexico. If we hadn’t cancelled our weekend in Zion and instead booked in Mexican Hat, where we then left a night early and skipped Kirtland, heading straight for Albuquerque instead, we probably would have been in Santa Fe when our issue with the converter started. Santa Fe is only an hour drive from Albuquerque, but we wouldn’t have been able to just stop into Airstream and plead our case face to face. For some reason, we ended up in the right place at the right time!
As I stated above, this is a very nice KOA Journey. Like most Journeys, the sites are close together, but our site (128) was was plenty long. The people that work here are so nice and were super flexible when we added a third day, and then added a week and a half, and then cancelled a week and a half. The location is pretty decent to everything Albuquerque has to offer and we would definitely stay here again if we were to return to the area.
1 or 2-Bedroom Suites with Kitchenette and Living Room
Social Hour with Snacks Monday – Thursday Evening
Accepts Mail Delivery
The Homewood Suites in Uptown was a great place to stay for a week and a half. The room was nice, the breakfast was decent, and the social hours with food during the week were a nice perk. Not only does the hotel allow dogs, but they also have a grassy area outside complete with dog waste bag station. The location is absolutely fantastic — the Uptown area of Albuquerque offers great restaurants, shopping, grocery stores, fitness centers and every possible service needed, all within walking distance. Travis was in Minnesota for work during most of our stay, but Max and I enjoyed sleeping in a king size bed, lounging on the couch, and generally just taking advantage of having more space. Personally, I enjoyed the long, hot showers and having dry towels of my very own every day. One of our favorite places to eat nearby is Fork & Fig, but there are so many options. And by the way, Uptown is only a 10-minute drive from the KOA and Airstream dealership, so it was also convenient to drive back and forth.
With all of the ‘excitement’ we had in Albuquerque, we didn’t get out to explore too much. We did a very brief, self-led Breaking Bad tour one evening and visited one of the sites of Petroglyph National Monument one afternoon.
There have been very few places that we’ve felt uncomfortable leaving the Airstream to go out exploring. This is one of the few. Possibly because no one else was staying in the ‘RV Park’ the same time as us. Possibly because there were rows of vehicles parked just 30 yards from us that didn’t seem to belong to anybody in the vicinity. Possibly because the owner is a tad creepy and his father (they both live above the office/store/restaurant) was apparently watching our every move – he didn’t like the way we parked in our spot and called down to his son to let him know. Whatever the reason, even though we paid for two nights, we decided to bug out early after just one night. We also learned the lesson to pay day by day at places that allow it; places like this that don’t take reservations or even write your name down – just take your money.
Why would we have chosen to stay at a place like this, you might ask? We needed a place along our route (there wasn’t much to pick from) and this place actually had a few decent reviews on Campendium. RV park reviews are so incredibly subjective and it can be difficult at times to glean the important facts.
Regardless of where you stay, this part of the country is incredibly beautiful, which is why we wanted to visit. Monument Valley and Valley of the Gods made for some fantastic views during our drive.