As part of our continuing exploration of the Nissan Leaf’s range, we took a one-day get-a-way and drove up to scenic Kernville deep in the heart of the southern Sierra Nevada.
This 55-mile trip had been on our to-do list for some time. We’d held off because the charging opportunities there were sketchy at best. We were confident we could get there, but getting back might be a problem.
Plugshare.com listed only one potential charge station, the Rivernook RV campground, and the description wasn’t complete. No one had charged there since 2013. And when we called motels in the area—a popular resort on the Kern River—the response we got was, “An electric what? You want to charge a what?” Needless to say, this didn’t impart a lot of confidence that we’d find what we needed.
Nevertheless, a Tesla had been through a few weeks before and had charged at the campground, so we decided to take the plunge. We booked a night at the Whispering Pines Lodge, a bed and breakfast we’ve stayed at in the past. The Lodge abuts Camp James, an RV campground, which further abuts Rivernook on the north.
The Lodge told us that a Tesla driver had been through and charged at Camp James. We called Camp James. While helpful, they were not really interested in EVs. They wanted overnight campers, but said we could stop by. (The Lodge was mistaken we came to learn. The Tesla charged at Rivernook, not Camp James.)
Off we went.
As in the past, I used both EV TripPlanner, an online range estimator, and a tabular estimator based on Tony Williams’ range chart.
The route follows the Kern River through the spectacular Kern River Gorge, climbing about 2,700 feet from Bakersfield to Kernville. Speeds are slow through much of the canyon, a plus for an Electric Vehicle (EV).
With its low center of gravity, the Leaf handled well—better than our Prius—on the narrow, winding road along the river.
Not having driven the route before, I drove conservatively and turned off the A/C. It was warm and this strategy is not really practical in a place like Bakersfield or the Southern San Joaquin Valley in the summer.
We arrived with capacity to spare: 31% State of Charge (SOC). This was greater than my target reserve of 20% to 25%. We could have driven more aggressively or used the A/C and still been within my reserve requirement.
As I expected, the Lodge didn’t have a clue as to what we needed—or what they had available—but they were helpful. I described what we needed to their custodian, Larry, and we walked over the property looking for a suitable outlet.
We’d just about decided to string an extension cord from the swimming pool area when I noticed a NEMA outdoor box near a circuit-breaker panel. Sure enough, it was an old TT-30 outlet, probably put in for the golf cart they use.
The TT-30 is an outlet designed for Travel Trailers rated for 30 amps at 120 volts.
I pulled out our EVSE Upgrade and plugged it in to test the circuit. It was live and with no faults. We now knew we could trickle charge overnight and that would give us enough to get back to Bakersfield.
We then drove over to Camp James to see if we could charge there at 240 volts. The first RV hook-up we used had a ground fault. That was a rude awakening. I’d never seen that before and it was disconcerting. At first I didn’t know what was wrong, I just kept getting the fault light and the car wouldn’t charge. Fortunately, I’d put the instruction sheet for the EVSE in the glove box and it includes how to read the fault light. The light was flashing six times, pause, then flashing again six times. That indicated a ground fault. At least it wasn’t the EVSE that was the problem. (I had visions of being towed to Bakersfield. Ouch!)
After packing up our gear, we drove over to Rivernook. Josh, the attendant, was eager to help, knew the fee they charged ($10), knew what we wanted (240 volt, 50 amp service), and knew right where to put us under the pleasant shade of cottonwood trees along the river.
We drove in, found our “camp site” got out our EVSE, plugged in and were charging at the full 16 amps, our EVSE Upgrade can deliver.
Josh later explained that Rivernook would like to cater to EVs and has explored installing its own L2, J1772 charge stations near the entrance. They’ve gone as far as pricing some stations, but the decision to move ahead hasn’t yet been made.
We charged for three hours, raising our SOC from 30% to 83%. We were good to go.
We drove to Ewings and had an excellent dinner overlooking the Kern River and the Kern River Valley.
Once back at the Lodge, we plugged into the TT-30 and by morning we had a full 100% charge.
The next day, Larry called me and asked how our charging had gone. I explained how we got the bulk of our charge at Rivernook and topped up at the Lodge. We talked a little more about how much more convenient it would be if the Lodge had a 240 V, 50-amp circuit for EVs. He said he could do that. He knew the panel had the capacity. Maybe the next time we go up, we can charge right at the lodge.
I’ve updated Plugshare.com to reflect our visit to Rivernook and the Lodge.
On our way out of town we stopped in at the Chamber of Commerce. I explained that we’d just driven up in an EV and successfully charged at Rivernook and Whispering Pines Lodge. I wrote down what other motels needed to know about EVs and the kinds of outlets required. This was the first the Chamber had ever heard of any EV passing through Kernville and they were excited to pass along the information to other hoteliers in the community. Their whitewater rafting business has collapsed and they’re keen to attract as many tourists as they can, including EVers.
Next on our proselytizing agenda was Audubon’s Kern River Preserve near Weldon. The preserve is another tourist attraction in the Kern River Valley and promoting EV usage fits with Audubon’s mission.
The 15-mile route from Kernville to Weldon takes you along what was the north shore of Lake Isabella. The lake is so low from the drought there’s now no water for much of the way.
When we arrived, we immediately spotted a TT-30 outlet. Sure enough, the preserve used to park a trailer in the spot. That’s not enough to get much of a charge, but it’s helpful if you’re going to be there for several hours bird watching. The preserve manager was out when we were there, but if he approves the use, I’ll post the site on Plugshare.com.
There’s a KOA a few miles down the road towards Isabella and we stopped there to check their facilities. There’s no 240 V, 50 amp service at the campground. They only have the TT-30s. It appears you’d have to rent a cabin and a RV site to get a sufficient charge, so the KOA doesn’t look promising.
If you wanted to get to Ridgecrest in a first-generation, consumer-oriented EV you’d have to go through Tehachapi and Mojave and not through Weldon and over Walker Pass, which we had considered a possibility.
We left the KOA with an 80% charge and arrived in Bakersfield with 25% remaining.
We proved you can get a Leaf up to Kernville, charge, and return successfully.
As in our other trip reports, we found that you can’t rely on EV TripPlanner alone. It’s best to use it in conjunction with Tony Williams’ range chart. As in the descent from Tehachapi, the descent from Kernville to Bakersfield used more electricity than EV TripPlanner estimated. This is good to know.
We found Williams’ range chart conservative and that tempers estimates from EV TripPlanner.
There was an anomaly in EV TripPlanner. It estimated the trip to Kernville and from the KOA at 52 and 51 miles respectively. The Leaf’s odometer reported the distance as 54 and 55 miles respectively.
EV TripPlanner was off about 10% on two legs.
Because EV TripPlanner is an online estimator and delivers detailed estimates by segment, there is a tendency to trust it exclusively. This seems unwise. It’s best to temper the results with Williams’ more approximate approach.
For us, we’re most comfortable if we allow a 20% to 25% SOC reserve. This limits our working range, but gives us peace of mind that we’ll get where we need to go—without being towed.