Amp Camp: Car Camping With My Electric Nissan Ariya


Aside from the cars I started this blog about, one of my long-time passions has been enjoying the great outdoors. The two interests compliment each other in that the cars (and trucks and motorcycles) are what get me to the often far-flung places I go to for fresh air, scenic vistas, and the occasional threat of animal attack.

As a veteran car camper I was naturally intrigued by the thought of taking my first electric car for a night under the stars and began making plans almost as soon as I signed on the dotted line to take delivery of my Ariya.

Being electric and a crossover instead of a proper high-riding, gas-powered, off-road beast of burden like the 4-wheel drive Armada or trusty Royal Enfield Himalayan adventure bike that I typically take camping the Ariya needed more careful consideration for my destination. Backwoods camps reachable only by twisty, rock-strewn roads and missing basic amenities like running water and a designated place to do the old number two let alone electricity were obviously a non-starter. And until I got used to the quirks of the evolving EV charging network it also didn't seem prudent to plan on busting out a 400 to 500 mile or more trek to get to my chosen patch of dirt.

I could have played it safe and visited any one of several familiar campgrounds I've already visited before like the excellent River Island State Park north of my hometown of Yuma, Arizona or the lush, forested Burnt Rancheria Campground towards the west in scenic Mount Laguna. Wanting to visit new places got the better of me though and I eventually settled on Alamo Lake State Park towards the northeast. Alamo Lake is as “middle of nowhere” as it gets here in Arizona with the stars feeling nearer than the closest Starbucks and where wild donkeys make more noise than passing vehicles. At 164 miles from home it was still well within the predicted 289 mile range of my Ariya though and best of all, despite its remoteness it had electricity available for a potential refill of electrons when I got there.

Unfortunately for me late April in the desert Southwest can bring wild swings in weather and for the weekend I had free from other commitments the change wasn't in my favor. As the day approached I watched the weather report show the temperature climb from a typical high 80s to the 90s and then eventually a daunting 102 degrees. It was enough to make me want to bail on my plans but I figured it would cool off quickly in the evening as it does here in the desert and the temps would still be low enough in the morning for a nice hike before I headed back home.

And so that Saturday morning I heaved my gear into the back of the Ariya and set off around 11 am. As you can see from the photo the car had plenty of room for all my stuff even with me deciding not to be minimalist in my packing and carrying extra gear in case of emergency. This time I'd be solo camping but I was confident the Ariya would have acquitted itself well still in terms of storage even if my family or friends had been able to come too.

The first part of the trek was an easy 80 mile cruise up two-lane US-95 to the little town of Quartzsite, home to a small collection of RV-loving retirees, a museum devoted to bubble gum wrappers, and a lot of other people in a hurry to get somewhere else since the place straddles the busy corridor of Interstate 10 that runs between the mega cities of Los Angeles and Phoenix.

Considering the amount of road trippers, truck drivers, and other wanderers making use of I-10 on any given day Quartzsite serves up a perfect example of one of the biggest hurdles now left to mass EV adoption: the crappy charging network (at least if you're not driving a Tesla).

While Tesla had the foresight to put at least 30 Superchargers in Quartzsite (and is rumored to be almost quadrupling that number in the near future), “rival” charging network Electrify America has put a simply pathetic four charging stations in. And since EA stations are nowhere near as reliable as Tesla's there's no shortage of complaints online of limited availability of the chargers in Quartzsite with too many drivers needing them especially when one of them goes down for various reasons.

I could have made it all the way to my campsite without stopping because I arrived in Quartzsite with about 63% charge still remaining but I figured a top-up would be smart considering how remote Alamo Lake is. Luck and the EV charging gods must have decided the hot weather was enough of a burden and when I rolled up to the EA station one charger happened to be free for the taking. I parked, plugged in, and started charging without a hitch. It turned out the charger's output was turned down for some reason from the max but even still twenty-four minutes later I'd filled my stomach, emptied my bladder, and loaded up with enough science-magic to have a 91 percent charge again.

The next leg of the journey was a short jaunt on the freeway for ten miles before turning off to head back into the boonies again. Ten miles goes by quick at highway speed but it was still enough to enjoy using ProPilot 2.0 again. Don't get me wrong, I love driving but even dedicated driving enthusiasts will get bored on an arrow-straight freeway just droning along at the same speed for mile after mile. Give me a twisty mountain pass the driving assists can go hop over the nearest cliffside but for just munching desert blacktop for hours in as stress-free a way as possible our new robot overlords have their merits. As the Ariya left Quartzsite behind ProPilot 2.0 allowed me to let go of the steering wheel, relax, and enjoy the scenery for a bit (while still keeping some attention on the road of course – the system WILL nag you about that) before the nav system warned me of my impending exit.

Veering north from I-10 puts you back on flat two-lane blacktop as you cruise past a collection of small towns that look like relics from the days of old Route 66 with usually just a small gas station, a cafe, and maybe an amusing sign like the one just past the tiny hamlet of Hope that warns you how you're now “Beyond Hope” - grammatical errors included. If you're more of a nervous EV driver full of range anxiety, that sign must seem less like an obvious joke and more like a taunt fueling your fears of getting stranded in the desert. Cue visions of your desiccated corpse being found by a state trooper and still clutching an extension cord in one hand.

Thankfully I avoided that fate or you wouldn't be reading this - and well, you need to go beyond Hope to make it to Wenden, the last tiny town before turning onto the final stretch to Alamo Lake. 

Sixty-four miles or so after leaving the highway I finally arrived at the park – but not before Google Maps tried to steer me onto an iffy-looking gravel road that looked extra sketchy because of the Toyota Sienna with shredded tires parked miserably on the side of the road just past it. Luckily I'd checked the maps of the local area and stayed on the nice smooth tarmac.

By the time I checked in at the ranger station slash general store the day had hit the full 102 degree high so rather than just wait around for the sweet embrace of heat stroke I drove around a bit, checked out the shoreline and the different campgrounds, and then the Bill Williams Overlook where I got a nice view of the earthen Alamo Dam that ensures the lake exists.

After my little tour I headed for my campsite. Lucky for me I'd had the foresight to reserve a spot in the Ramada campground where small gazebos over the picnic tables ensure some vital shade and more importantly for my electric-powered excursion each site had an RV-style electrical hookup.

As the sun started getting low and promising some relief from the heat I pitched my tent and got my temporary home set up. I was looking forward to seeing how charging my Ariya would go from the RV hookup but that would have to wait because I had a couple of quick drives to do before settling in for the night. First, as sunset arrived I headed back to the overlook for some great shots of the lake during that all-important “magic hour” photographers crave. Then after a quick dinner back at camp it was time for a nice hot shower at the larger Campground B just past the ranger station.

Freshened up and back at my campsite it was time for the big moment where I'd find out if I'd wake up the next day with a fresh tank of lightning juice or have to worry about finding an available charger back at the Electrify-America-If-You're-Lucky station on the way home. Thankfully the Nissan-supplied portable charger that came with the car plugged straight into the 50 amp NEMA 14-50 socket on the campsite pedestal and the car reported it was happily chugging electrons straight away. The drive from Quartzsite and the moseying around the park with the AC fighting the heat had dropped my charge down to 51% by the time I plugged in but now I could go to bed knowing I'd greet the morning fully charged again.

Or at least my car ended up fully charged because I wasn't quite in as good shape the next day. The temps cooled down nicely and my tent was nice and cozy but the kid in the RV next door decided 3 am would be a great time to have a long crying fit. Getting back to sleep after that was a struggle but on the bright side I woke up before sunrise and could make an early start to the day.

A quick check on my Ariya verified she'd had her fill from the RV hookup overnight and after a hearty breakfast I made the best of the cool morning air to pack up before it got uncomfortably hot again. The early start also meant that I was able to commence my planned hike, get up to the radio towers on a nearby hill, enjoy the great view of the lake (and the cool breeze), and arrive back at the campground after a nearly 4 mile trek while the sun was still bearable. Another shower to wash off the sweat and dust, a quick trip back to the store for some souvenirs and gifts for people, and I was back on the road before noon.

The full charge at camp turned out to be a godsend because as I cruised back into Quartzsite the chargers were full but I had 175ish miles of projected range left and only needed about 90 of that to get back home. That meant that I could give Electrify America a hearty one-fingered salute for their lackluster network as I popped into the nearby McDonald's for a much-needed lunch break. About two hours later I was back home from my first totally electric-powered camping trip, none the worse for wear, and not having taken up any more time than if I'd done it in a regular gasoline car.

In fact, I probably needed less travel time because I ate lunch while fast charging on the way up and slept while filling up before returning, saving some time versus making two separate gas station stops on the way.

That being said here are some observations from my first overnight EV road trip:

  1. Most modern EV's including the Ariya are totally viable for daily use as well as road tripping since they generally have 240 or more miles of estimated range and can fast charge from 10% to 80% charge in only about the same amount of time most people need to take a break during a long drive. Seriously, unless you're in a huge hurry you're probably not just gassing up and immediately leaving when you stop on a road trip. It's likely you'll burn up 20-30 minutes stretching, going to the bathroom, maybe grabbing a bite to eat, and even more time if you have to wrangle any small creatures along for the ride – whether human or animal. So yeah, the charging time of current-gen EV's isn't an issue except for...

  2. The non-Tesla fast charging network in the US is pathetically inadequate currently. Fast chargers supporting the CCS plug that's standard for pretty much all EV's apart from ones born of the House of Musk are too few and far between currently with way too spotty reliability. Until networks like EA, EVGo, Chargepoint, and so on markedly improve their infrastructure road-tripping in a non-Tesla EV will demand careful planning and a healthy dollop of luck. Hopefully Tesla's plans to open their network to CCS cars will fix this issue by adding their excellent network as a charging option and at the same time force competing networks to up their game.

  3. RV hookups are a great way to get a charge if you have a long stop so taking a portable charger with you should be standard operating procedure for road trippers. Be sure to do some research first though on plugs, adapters, amp ratings, choosing sites, and so on lest you get chased out by a slow-moving mob of Rver's wielding pitch forks and badminton racquets.

  4. EV's are a great fit for camping – if you can get there range-wise. First, you (and others) can enjoy nature better when you don't have exhaust gases or engine noise to detract from the experience. Second, you have the option of sleeping in your EV with the climate control and stereo running all night especially if you can plug into an RV outlet or a level 2 charger to keep your battery from running down. I actually thought of doing this due to the daytime heat but thankfully the nighttime cooled enough it didn't become necessary and I was able to stretch out better in my tent. An EV is also great for shuttling around a big campsite since you just turn it on like a big, fancy electric golf cart and then can go get supplies, grab a shower, or maybe go to a ranger talk with ease.

  5. The Ariya is an awesome road-trip car. The interior is luxurious, quiet, and comfy. The ride is good though not quite plush due to the high psi EV tires. ProPilot 2.0 makes long highway slogs much less of a chore. There's plenty of room in both the passenger and cargo areas and the AC is superb.

    Now, there are a few cons but nothing major. The route planner is just okay and mainly hampered by not listing all charging stations on a route properly. The Ariya doesn't support vehicle-to-load like other Evs so you can't use it to provide power at your campsite for lights or any other gadgets you might have. This wasn't a big deal for me though since I already had a portable power station and solar panel setup to do just that – and without robbing my car of vital range. Third, the Ariya's cooling system can be quite noisy when going full-tilt. When I first plugged it in to charge, the system ran hard for a long time to cool down the battery from the day's heat. It was pretty audible in the quiet of the campground to the point I was worried it would get complaints from the neighbors. Thankfully it shut down before quiet hours started at 10 pm and I didn't get an irate camper ripping open my tent at 3 am.

    Lastly, the Ariya has great drivetrain efficiency so you get great range with relatively low-speed urban driving but it's not very aerodynamically efficient. Nissan did okay aero-wise with their second major EV design but they could have certainly done better. The nose is relatively blunt, the door handles would be better flush, the twin shark fin antennas look cool (and seem to catch everybody's attention) but do add more drag – these are a few examples of things Nissan could have optimized for aerodynamics. In use you can see the Ariya loses a lot more range the further you go above 65 mph – which kinda sucks in Arizona where everybody routinely cruises at 80 plus on the highways. It isn't terrible and you can certainly cruise at 80+ easily if you want but you have to be more judicious in your charging stops if you do so yeah, the Ariya is not for speed demons.

Hope you found all that informative especially if you share an interest in Evs and camping. To wrap up, enjoy this mini-gallery of other shots from my trip that didn't make it into the article. Until next post, as always, drive safe everybody!

P.S. No, I haven't given up entirely on vehicles powered by exploding dinosaur juice if that concerns you. Although I am making a concerted effort to be more climate friendly so that future humans can enjoy life outside of some crazy sci-fi subterranean city I still love sporty cars so expect more GT-R shenanigans to come in the future. In fact I have updates on both the R34 and Nismo R32 coming in the near future so stay tuned!

Most of the small towns on the way looked like they could have been plucked from a '50s Route 66 travelogue

"You have a face..."Como un burro!""

Driving and charge stats for the Ariya upon arriving at Alamo Lake

Driving and charge state after the entire trip


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