Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Wildcat Den State Park: Primitive Campground + Basecamp Solar = Easy Living

Morning sun and solar panels at Wildcat Den State Park
Finally I made it to Wildcat Den State Park in Iowa, and I have to say I had a good time. Wildcat Den is a primitive campground, which means a site provides a fire ring and a picnic table. Centrally located water faucets are accessible, and the campground has pit toilets. 

This campground provided the beginning of a loop ten-day trip of a few more campgrounds and scenic nature-scapes to explore and enjoy. Spending two nights there was my first real experience of being off the grid and reliant on my solar panels. I had experimented before in my driveway and in a campground with a 30 amp plug-in available. My Zamp 230-watt solar suitcase worked well, keeping the refrigerator cold and allowing me to use my 12-volt system--although I admit I was frugal in its use. 

The last time I camped off the grid without shore power was four years ago when I tent camped with my wife. Since then, it has been three years of camping with our tiny trailer, the RTTC Polar Bear, aka the Green Goddess, which had no battery system. Then this season has been with our new Airstream Basecamp, which has two AGM batteries and is solar ready. Using the solar suitcase means I just plug it in and then make sure it's pointing toward the sun. My experience was that the solar panels charged the battery to a full 12.5 volts and then in the morning the battery voltage was 12.2 or 12.3.

I'd forgotten the off-the-grid routine of camping, not having done it for a few years. My main experience lately has been cooking with accessories, since I've become accustomed to having an Instant Pot or toaster oven handy when cooking. It was back to the propane stove, which was not a big adjustment. The 12-volt refrigerator, though, was still working fine with solar panels. There's really not much to say about the change from shore power to solar power, from modern campgrounds to "boondocking" in Iowa, where pretty much all camping is in a campground. The Basecamp made it easy. Maybe that's the Airstream or solar-ready point to be made: being off the grid can be easy, even if it requires a few minor adjustments.

Pine Creek Grist Mill Dam, built 1848 by Benjamin Nye
Wildcat Den State Park was different than the other Iowa state parks I've camped in. The campground is a meadow loop, skirted by trees. Campsites are situated on both sides of the loop road, so you can camp in shade or sun. I chose a site from the map on the northwest side of the meadow, which provided me with afternoon shade and sun for the solar panels until evening. I was there two nights, and there was quite a bit of overnight camping--arriving late afternoon and gone in the morning. (I was told it's busier on the weekend, but I guess no surprise there.)

Sandstone bluffs 300 million years old
Shadow and light at play
Wildcat Den is a park the features two main attractions--an old grist mill and dam, and a series of sedimentary rock ravines and grottoes that provide  pretty spectacular hiking. After my arrival, I assembled my folding bicycle and rode down the the mill and dam, and then rode . . . and walked my bike back up the hill from the creek. The next day I hiked the main trails that featured the most dramatic views. There are sites on the trails called "Steamboat Rock" and "Devil's Punch Bowl," which provide some three-dimensional geography unlike much of Iowa. 

I have to say it was an easy first experience with off-the-grid solar camping. I believe I'll be doing this again sometime!

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  1. Your story about Wildcat Den wanted me to head there after reading.

  2. I enjoyed the park--quiet yet still maintained. I'm glad my description got that across. Happy camping!