Sunnylands Center and Gardens, Rancho Mirage, California

This is another location of some notoriety that was unknown to us prior to going full-time traveling.  Traveling full-time has been such an education for us.   It has broadened our view on many levels.

Presidents, past and present have visited Sunnylands Estate as a retreat, golfing on the 9-hole course on-site and relaxing in the luxurious desert winter home of Walter and Lenore Annenberg.

It is considered a West Coast Camp David where Presidents could host global leaders to discuss International issues in hopes of advancing to agreements.  Many political leaders and others trying to find solutions to current problems and issues that affect us all, have visited and continue to visit Sunnylands and many have testified to the significance of such a serene place to tackle difficult issues.

It is a desert oasis, lush with native greenery as well as some non-native trees and vegetation.  It was designed to represent an impressionist’s canvas painting.   We visited the center, walked the Labyrinth and toured the gardens where water features, artwork and greenery was designed to soothe the soul.  There were movie films which we watched, artwork on the walls which we admired and even a lunch cafe with outdoor seating.

I was especially impressed with their work on environmental sustainability.  They have a large solar system which they recharge back to the main grid any excess electricity.   It is raised off the ground and used as a carport giving dual usage to the surface area of the land.

They monitor, record and  conserve their water usage and recharge unused water to the aquifer below. They installed a separate piping system to connect to the public recycling water distribution system once the municipal water recycling system is complete. That is proactive!  They use state of the art techniques to manage and document their activities and monitor the success or not and publish the findings.

Local high school students get field experience learning to tag butterflies, collect and log data on plant and insect species.  The Center is an active and productive member of the community providing  a location of educational and progressive meetings on matters important to us all.

We only toured the center and the grounds.  The home does provide guided pre-scheduled tours, but those tickets are hard to get.  We enjoyed the garden and center and left content with knowing that others making serious decisions have a retreat in which allows them to gather their thoughts and find a place of peace while they do so.

This was another beautiful afternoon in Southern California!

Our Dabble in Solar

We were so impressed with the Solar Presentation at Escapades that we purchased a basic system and had it installed by the pros on-site.

Our basic solar install

We love to travel and stay in big exciting and action packed cities and small charming towns.  We also love to retreat into the woods at National, State and County Parks.

However, we have gone to some of the most beautiful national campgrounds where we were disappointed to find that there were no utility hookups available.  We are self-contained water-wise and we have a small generator but not all areas allow generators or if they do allow them, it is during limited hours.  The noise of a generator can grate on one’s and one’s neighbor’s nerves.

Recently, we arrived at an RV Park during a busy season and had to stay in a dry camp area until a site with hook ups became available a day or two later. We ran our generator to keep the batteries charged and it worked fine other than being a bit noisy.  We prefer a quieter mode of energy if possible.

We have been eyeing solar energy as an alternate to campground electrical hook-ups for some time.  While at the Escapade in Tucson, we attended a class explaining the basics of alternate (solar) energy options.  Solar accepts energy from the sun, sends it to our batteries to store as needed for use and recharges the batteries the next sunny day.  Not all days are sunny, thus the generator as a back-up.j

This technical subject is covered my many more qualified folks than me and I have no intention of pretending that I understand it all, nor do I have the skills to teach others.  This is just a brief summary of what we are doing.

We replaced about one out of three fluorescent lights with LED lights last fall. The LEDs are more expensive to purchase and give a slightly different light.  We can use the fluorescent lights when needed like when I sew at night or read in a paper book in a full electrical hook up.  The LED lights work fine for the rest of our activities.  They use much less energy.

We made sure that each living area (kitchen, living room, bedroom and bath) has an LED light and turn off the switch on the fluorescent lights when being conservative.  This helps keep our electric bills down. Many of the RV Parks now charge for electricity use even on overnight stays.  That has ranged from $1.50 to $4.50 a day, depending on if we run the air conditioner and what they charge per KWH.

There are various solar system makeups available, which made it difficult for us to come to a decision on what would work for us.  We wondered if we could afford it and would we actually use it?  From the solar energy class, Phil was able to determine and tally the electrical usage needs of our rig and lifestyle.  We took the list to one of the RV Solar Electric vendors on-site at the Rally.  They put together a system that should work for us.

Our needs are pretty basic.  We want to run our LED lights, use our laptops, tablets, cell phones, the water pump and maybe a short spurt of TV.  We will not be using the microwave, hair dryer or central vacuum without a generator running.  Our generator will not run our air conditioner, we would need an additional generator added in to our current system.

We hope to follow good weather and not need air conditioning.  We will likely need to buy a propane catalytic heater for those cool mornings and nights if we travel northward and stay off-grid or find ourselves in another Artic Air weather system.  Most likely if the weather is too hot or too cold, we will simply find an RV Park and hook up to their electrical and pay whatever they charge.  We hope to use the best of both options: Commercial RV Parks with full hook ups in urban areas and no hook ups in State and National Parks where and when possible.

A small system will likely meet our intermittent off-grid needs and it did not cost as much as we expected.  I calculated that if we used the solar just part of the time  (about 1 week out of 4), we should recoup our investment for the solar in about several months. It all depends on how often we use it.

We purchased one large solar panel and controller that we can add on to at a later date.  To add another solar panel, we will need to replace and add to our battery bank. We currently have two good 12V batteries and a 1000W pure sine wave inverter.

We had it installed by the pros (also an on-site vendor), and will likely do the add-on panels and inverter installation ourselves when we replace the 2 current batteries with 4- 6V golf cart batteries.

Our solar system consists of the following:

CarmanahCiti-160 which is 160 Watt/9.14 Amp Panel with tilting brackets.

Go Power GMP/30 PWM Controller with digital read outs.

2-12 V Batteries

LED Lights added in each living area (~30% LED)

Our off grid non-solar system

2100i gas generator

1000W invertor

While opening up the refrigerator service area to wire in the solar regulator and digital controller, look what we found?

Does anyone have any idea what critter was making a home here?  I think that when we were in one of the forest parks in Mississippi, Louisiana or Texas, perhaps a squirrel, pack rat or another critter scampered across the roof, chewed the screen wire covering the vent pipe of the refrigerator and crawled down the vent pipe to make a nice safe nest. They were probably very upset when we left the park with the nicely built nest deep inside.  Thank goodness the nest was empty. Had we stayed longer, it might not have been empty and all of us would have been unhappy.   We looked at the wiring and it appeared intact.   I can’t believe that we did not hear this happening so close to us!

We will let you know how well this system works for us as we get used to using it over the next few weeks and months.

Here are some photos of the install: