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Guadalupe Mountains and Carlsbad Caverns // Finally made it out of Texas!

The day had finally arrived, we were leaving Texas. It had been a big beautiful journey full of mighty skies, friendly people, colorful experiences, and the biggest, ever, gas stations. Even despite all that and the 75 mph speed limit, it didn’t seem like we could get out fast enough.

We arrived in New Mexico in the early afternoon. Just across the southern border, we followed the Guadelupe Mountain range up into Whites City, NM where the famous Carlsbad Caverns rest hundreds of feet below the ground. We had just enough time to tour a strange grocery store/arcade/retail/museum in town before we needed to find a place to park the van for the night. The Wikipedia page claimed that there were 7 people living in Whites City and it had appeared that those 7 people were quite busy with the strange tourist store, hotel, restaurant, gas station (no diesel), and RV park. The town stood at the entrance of the road up to Carlsbad Caverns and thrived and survived soley on the fact that thousands of people each year scuffled through that cooridor desperately in need of an engraved pocket knife or commemorative shot glass.

We asked the young man behind the counter the location of the best campground. He guided us in a direction and we headed that way. One hour later we were lost as hell and cussing that young man through our gritted teeth. We eventually located a BLM spot off the highway and settled in for the night. The moon was brilliant that night.

Early the next morning we drove thru the rocky, steep Walnut Canyon to Carlsbad Caverns.  Instead of taking the elevator down to the caves, we chose to take the natural entrance and walked for over an hour through gigantic rooms until finally reaching “the big room.” The trail wound its way though statuesque rock formations, crystal clear ponds of filtered water, deep dark cooridors, and underneath massive hanging rock chandeliers. It was a memorable sight to see.

After the Caverns we continued our journey north to White Sands National Monument.

 

From RUST to ROLLING – total cost of a custom van build

When we began obsessing over van life there were a few things we had to keep in mind:

  1. It would be expensive (for us) because this was going to be our home and it was worth it for us to spend a little more money to make it the most comfortable.
  2. We had to be ready for anything to go wrong during the van build process which would only help us when experiencing hurdles once we hit the road.
  3. We will have to downsize A LOT and learn to be okay with that.
  4. Everything we put in the van needed to have more than one purpose.
  5. Ask for help! We made a point to include our friends and family in helping us build the van. Trust me, we are not carpenters, welders, or electricians but many of our friends and family members are and were eager to help us with whatever we need. Plus, it gave us an opportunity to spend time with friends and family before our journey.

With all of these things in mind and after months of staying up late doing research and watching YouTube videos, we decided we were ready to make a purchase.

Laputa, our 2006 Dodge Sprinter (with a Mercedes engine) lived in St. Louis, Missouri, about 5 hours from where we lived. Laputa wasn’t perfect but with only 120,000 miles and for the price, it felt right. Once we got home, a mechanic looked it over and we inspected the rust damage. It was lengthy. In fact, the landscape company had put a thick steel plate over the decaying floor without treating it. This meant that we had a lot of extra expenses to take care of before we began the building process. It was frustrating and we were upset that we had bought a van that was in such bad shape but we knew to stay calm. We accessed the entirety of the frame and the damage from the rust and decided we could get thru it!

Listed below is just about everything we spent money on to build the van:

Sprinter $5000

Foam board, Aluminum Floor, and Glue $150

Spray Foam $400

Solar Panel $Free

Charge Controller $153

Inverter $100

Battery $100

Wire $80

Solar Misc. $50

LED Lights $35

Speakers and Wiring Harness $40

2 USB Charging Ports $24

DC Plug-In $10

Ceiling Lumber $89

Lumber for bed $37

Luan Walls $103

Cabinet Lumber $118

Flooring $3

Paint $60

Paint Misc. $10

Ceiling Fan $201

Window Tinting $350

Fabric $29

Sink $Free

Hand Pump $20

Aluminum Backsplash $12

Water Tanks $34

Passport Potty Circa ’80 $Free

Total: $9,188

 

The below items will not be relevant to everyone but is important to remember to prepare for the unexpected!

 

Spare Tire $240

Wiper Blades $40

Rod Bearing, Gasket, Oil and Oil Change, Tools, and Labor $350

Air Filter, Coolant, Windshield Fluid $100

Side Door Roller $50

Welding Frame $200

Rust Resistance $66

 

Plus, with buying a new vehicle there are always more expenses….

Inspection $20

Registration $92

For us, our total was $10,346

 

Check out our van video to get a better idea of how we put it all together!

The Punishment of Residential Solar

From our 2006 Sprinter Van we search with our eyes for solar systems as we pass big and small homes along the roadside. This is what we do. We point out big systems, small systems, crooked systems, ground mounts, and solar farms. It never gets old.

While on our journey thru the Southwest we have spoken with a few local residents about solar and the difficulties of owning or getting a system. We know that it is common for people to think that “the technology just isn’t there yet,” or they would invest in a system. Although, this might be true with some types of batteries, we know that if people reduced their energy usage, they could sustain themselves with a solar system. 

What many people don’t know is that in many cities and states, the utility companies have it out for home owners with solar systems. Utility companies are fighting to tax home owners with solar systems and even a mandatory system turn off if the rest of the grid is out, making it impossible for the home owner to have control over their system.

Kansas

  • In September of 2017, Kansas Corporation Commission ruled that utility companies (Westar and other big utilities) can tax customers who have a solar system and/or wind turbine.
  • Utility companies must offer net-metering with solar systems.
  • In some counties and municipalities, home owners cannot go off-grid but must be tied into the electrical grid. Check your counties building permits.
  • In 2015, Kansas changed Renewable Portfolio Standards from requiring utility companies to source 20% of their power from renewable energies by 2020 to utility companies can (voluntarily) decide to source 25% of their power from renewable energies.

New Mexico

  • New Mexico’s solar capacity of 400 MW ranks 13th in the country as of July 2016
  • The state energy program or SEP has been critical to the states growth and success donating more than 2 million to the states energy and management division between 2008 and 2014
  • However, due to pressure from utility companies lobbying for the removal of net metering, New Mexico could soon follow suit and remove the incentives for homeowners to install solar.

Arizona

  • Since 2013, phasing out net-metering has been the focus for most utility companies, this requires utility companies to pay back solar customers for the energy they provided to the grid. Before the December 2013 ruling, utility company Arizona Public Service contributed money to anti-solar smear campaigns that produce TV advertisements in the Arizona Public Service service area. Currently, net-metering is still required by utility companies just at a much lower rate than before. Arizona Public Service is now being investigated by the FBI for this smear campaign and their hand in the decision made by the Arizona Corporation Commission.
  • In some counties and municipalities, home owners cannot go off-grid but must be tied into the electrical grid. Check your counties building permits.

To summarize, electrical utility companies want to stop net-metering and tax home owners with solar systems because they believe those home owners are not paying for their share of the grid. Although, in many cities and counties, home owners must be tied into the grid and therefore, they have no choice but to pay the electric companies tax or not get solar at all, a catch-22. Despite New Mexico’s success and many studies showing that electrical companies would only benefit from buying solar and producing solar energy, utility companies are making a green statement across the country that home owners will not have autonomy over their electricity production.

Introducing… OUR BLOG!

You may be asking, why are you living in a van? The simple answer is, it has everything! A van provides many essential commodities; transportation, a roof, a heater, plus much more. What it doesn’t provide is gained by interacting with the communities we explore, being outdoors, and learning new ways to live life.

The best part about living in the van is it is on wheels! We are able to travel as far and wide as the land or ferries can take us! (FYI, we are not planning to travel out of the North American continent yet). But the point is, we have flexibility! It is glorious.

What we do miss is spending time with our families and friends. Being able to share our experience is important and we hope this blog can give you all a glimpse into our everyday, our conversations, our personalities, and we hope to make friends and gain knowledge from the readers along the way.

Why van under the sun? Many reasons but most literally, the van has to be under the sun daily to produce the electricity we need for lights, a fan, charging, etc.

But also, our passion is sustainable energy. Eventually, we want to be able to own a solar business that helps individuals find the right product for them. At the same time, we hope to disrupt the ownership of solar and green energy by larger corporations.

Mind you, we are in stage .01, we have a lot of work to do! Ian has installed solar panels for the past couple of years and I have only learned about the industry through him, talking to community members, and online research. We hope this blog can share information about the green industry while opening doors to learning more about it.

Please, do not hesitate to contact us with questions or comments. We would love to hear from you all!

Liz & Ian

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