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Camp Water

Updated: Nov 13, 2019

Water for life is obviously an issue when living in the desert, on a dry 140 acres! Here’s how we are managing that aspect.

Year One: Tourists

Two years ago we camped here for a week and brought boxes of spring water at the grocery store. We also had a couple of 5-gallon collapsible plastic jugs which we filled at the last hotel before getting to the land.

Year Two: Campers

Last year we were here for more than 2 weeks, and we needed to learn how you “do” water here. We know that lots of rural folks do not have wells, so there must be something for that, right? It was difficult to even get information. People would look at us blankly when we asked where to get water for rural living. It seemed as foreign a concept in Albuquerque as in Seattle, Wisconsin, New Jersey, or anywhere else where water is taken for granted. We “lucked out” a couple times with folks just letting us fill our water jugs.

At the Dancing Eagle Casino on the Laguna Pueblo reservation, they not only let use use their spigot, but they clued us in that what we were looking for is called “water haul,” and they said Gallup is the place to go. They said east of Gallup we can only buy spring water from grocery stores (40 cents per gallon), and most places don’t just let you fill up.

We bought a 35-gallon tank, which turned out to be useless. The Water Store in Gallup (25 cents/gallon) doesn’t have a hose that could reach my jeep, and you can’t just fill a 35-gallon tank and carry it out to the car! He sent us across the highway to the city-provided automated water haul (less than 2 cents/gallon). There we watched folks from the Navajo Nation filling the big water tanks that filled the beds of their pickups… the 3" or 4" diameter flexible hose came down vertically to an end height of about eight feet, and no on/off spigot — once you pay, the water pours out! Great for filling an open hatch in the bed of a pickup, not so good for a tank inside an SUV… we stuck with our 5-gallon jugs with water from the Water Store..

Year Three: Residents

Our next door neighbors have a well which was installed years before they bought their land. It was not equipped, and they didn’t have the cash to equip it. We, along with the third family on our road, worked out a water arrangement — we helped pay for the pump and power system to get the well operational, and we have free access to the well for water haul for the next five years (and their yellow truck and transfer pump -- we've just been pumping directly into our truck). Since our own well will likely be ~$20,000 to put in, we figure this buys us time, and buys us the short-term convenience of hauling from 3 minutes away instead of 40 minutes away.

So now we fill our 225-gallon tank in the bed of our pickup at the neighbor’s well, and empty that into our 225-gallon tank on the ground at our campsite.

The catch is that we don’t drink this water. It hadn’t been tested since the original well was dug 10 years ago (borderline in one contaminant at that time). The neighbors had it tested recently, and now it shows as borderline in a couple of contaminants (partly due to shifting standards). So we use that water for washing, but not for drinking or cooking. We're looking into treatment options

Woman in back of pickup filling big tank with water coming down from above.
This is after switching mid-stream to the big tank when our 35 was full, since the water doesn't turn off!

We now fill a 5-gallon water thermos with grocery store water about once a week for drinking. We fill our 35-gallon tank at the Gallup water haul for cooking (our truck with the li’l tank is a cute oddity there). And we fill our 225-gallon tank at the well 1/2 mile from camp with water for everything else.

We try to be good, to conserve water, and to use greywater when we can. We plan to install a greywater system in our house, but have been using greywater for years, like anyone can without any “system.” Here we save water in tubs when we wash our hands, and use that scummy water to do the physical work of getting crud off of our dishes. Then we take the cleanish-looking dishes and wash them in clean water. The final rinse water might be saved for the next meal’s pre-wash.

I stand in a big shallow tub when I shower, with my lightweight dirty clothes at my feet. Then I stomp on them in the soapy water, squeeze them out, and hang them up. They pass for clean (and even if they are dripping wet when hung, they are dry in 20 minutes).

We finally “gift” our twice-used dirty water to the trees in our immediate vicinity, spreading the wealth. I’m sure it will be appreciated more once the monsoon ends, but it’s still dry enough that it soaks in pronto! Ike also likes the cooler damp ground to rest on.

Our Water Splurges

At this moment in time I am ridiculously giddy about two recent purchases…

For one thing, it is hard to buy things here, period. Many items aren't available within 90 miles, and some things can't be mailed to us since we don’t have a real address other than our P.O. box. We do have a street address, but we had to apply for it, and it’s only for 9-1-1 purposes (and voter registration, etc). We were given a few different instructions by folks at the post office — give vendors your street address, and tack your box number on to the end of the zip code. That didn’t work because Amazon “knew” that it isn’t a real street address and asked me to fix that line. Then the postal clerk said to use the physical address of the post office, with our box number at the end of the zip. Amazon also did not allow that. I do not know why. (Do they have every post office’s physical address in a “reject” database??) We had to rent an address in Gallup at the UPS store for $15/month. So now we can get big things, pepper spray, lithium batteries, all those great things that Amazon won’t deliver to P.O. Boxes! We just have to drive the 40 minutes into Gallup to pick them up...

So after all of that runaround, I was doubly thrilled to get these extravagances…

One is a camp shower — just a shower head on a hose attached to a battery-powered pump that you stick in a bucket of water. I am in heaven. I still only use a gallon or two for a shower, but it feels like a real shower, and I don’t have to haul a shower bag up on pulleys, or struggle with the slippery, ineffective on-off valve with my soapy hands, or suffer the dribble pretending to be a “shower” that bounces around somewhere in the vicinity of my face, or squat to get the top of my head wet.

I still shower standing in that shallow tub…. but now… now… I use my shower water in our new WASHING MACHINE!

We got a little 2-tub washer like those I’ve used when living in Japan and Costa Rica. It is no-frills, does the job, and inherently is its own greywater system! You put your clothes in the wash tub with soap and set the timer. It churns the clothes like any washer. Then you pull the wet clothes out and put them into the spinner (like a swimsuit spinner at some swimming pools). That gets much of the soapy water out.

I start with my “cleanest” clothes and wash ~3 loads with the same soapy water — I don’t mind washing dark jeans, socks, or the mop rag in greywater (and it is pretty darned grey by then)! Then I drain and clean the washer, and start over with the cleanest soapy clothes and clean rinse water — churn them through the washer, spin them in the spinner, and take the next load through the same rinse water. After that, the well-used rinse water can be the wash water for the next load, if you still have clothes to wash.

We did the equivalent of 2 loads from my old front-load washer, and used about 15 gallons of water (it had been weeks since we'd last been to a laundromat).

Our solar- and wind-powered dryer is much faster and more efficient than our old gas dryer ever was.

...and it infuses our clean laundry with the fresh scent of piñon and juniper!!

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I love doing laundry, at home. I'm exhausted reading your laundry adventure. You guys are amazing!


Bruce Ishikawa
Bruce Ishikawa
Aug 19, 2019

A solar still can convert brackish water to pure water. All you need is sunlight, which is one of your most abundant resources. There are lots of plans online to DIY.


Andrew Frelick
Andrew Frelick
Aug 19, 2019

Love the details of your adventures. Just like reading National Geographic- thank you for sharing


Ross Ishikawa
Ross Ishikawa
Aug 19, 2019

Such an adventure! Great to read the details. Especially the 'Kimi-minutiae'!

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