After several months of planning, downsizing, dreaming, hunting for and finding the perfect vehicle; fretting, buying stuff, getting rid of stuff, giving stuff away, and turning over my business, I was ready to hit the road – or so I thought! Now, after nine months of riding the roller coaster of semi-retirement, I feel like I finally arrived at my full-time RV destination.
Well…I’m not sure we ever really “arrive”. Maybe we just get comfortable with where we are. That’s my story for now.
One of the reasons I was in a bit of a quandary in January was because my faithful van was sick. She’s a trooper and didn’t leave me stranded, but it took three weeks and several thousand dollars to get her back in tip-top shape. It’s times like this that I wonder if I should get something newer? And if it is newer, should it be larger (with a bathroom)? Should I sell all my remaining assets to purchase a brand new (read: expensive) rig? Am I really experienced enough to make a good decision? (The quick answer is NO!)
After I got the van back from York Dodge (Prescott) and the refrigerator fixed, I was back in business and decided it was time to stop fretting and get on with it. So I left Sedona for the second time and headed south. I was planning to meet a friend from Colorado later in the month, then stop by Tucson to visit my summer workamper buddy. At least I had a plan…sort of!
One thing I decided was that I might not be cut out to be a sandy-footed boondocker. At least not at the moment. The time I spent around Quartzsite, Ehrenberg, Blythe and Saddle Mountain showed me how hard it is to be so…isolated. Part of it was because I was sick, but the bigger part was because I wasn’t comfortable. Sure, the van was fine (except for the nail in the tire); but my propensity for “leaving no trace” was more challenging than I anticipated.
Note: If you have a weak stomach, you might not want to read the next couple of paragraphs.
During my stays on BLM land, I wanted to leave the fragile desert environment as fresh as I found it (and cleaner!), so I had to make some decisions about my camping habits. I have most of the Leave No Trace Principles covered, but the test was to pack out all the trash – including my own pee and poo. If you camp in the woods, digging a “cat” hole is acceptable. But out in the dry desert with hundreds of annual visitors, it didn’t seem like such a good idea. So I opted for a gallon-size “yellow jug” and “brown plastic bags” to be properly disposed of at the nearest rest area or filling station.
Rather than a bucket with a seat, I purchased a Turbo Toilet to use in the backcountry. It works with a plastic bag and “poo powder”. If space is an issue in your vehicle, this collapsible unit is perfect, especially in an emergency. I’ve heard that if you don’t mix the two in the same container, there won’t be any odors, but I’m not buying it. (TMI? OK, I’ll stop. You get the picture.)
Ahem…where was I? Oh yeah. From those experiences, I decided to go the campground route for the next few weeks. Sure, it might be expensive, but I had to see if I felt more at ease. So off I went from Sedona, south on SR260 toward Payson. As I gained elevation on this scenic little two-laner I found myself smiling again. Trees! There were huge Ponderosa Pines everywhere as I climbed up to 5,000′. And look! The Forest Service campground at Houston Mesa, a few miles from Payson, just opened and I was the first visitor of 2018! I had the place to myself that night – in the mountains, with trees and flushing toilets, – all for $12 per night (with my National Parks senior pass).
I was soooo happy!
This quiet campground was such a perfect fit, I decided to stay for a couple of nights. It gave me a chance to clean and organize the van, work on the blog, explore the area and gather information. At last, I felt like I was doing what I was “supposed to be doing”.
But wait, it gets better! Around 5:00 pm on the second night, a PleasureWay van pulled in across the street. Louie, from Canada and his partner Susan introduced themselves and we spent most of the evening comparing travel notes, campgrounds, visitor centers and scary roads (Apache Trail was high on their list of roads NOT to travel on again!). Ahh, yes, my tribe!
One of the tips Louie and Susan suggested was to stop at the Cholla Campground at Roosevelt Lake, about 50 miles south. They gave me the insider’s scoop about the special campsite they stayed in the night before, so as we hugged each other goodbye, I promised to check out their find.
Shh! Don’t tell anyone about this slice of heaven in the desert!
Special campsite #87 is at the north end of the campground with views of the lake that stretch as far as the eye can see. It is dart-in-the-dark close to a pristine bathroom with flushers and has only one other camper nearby. I signed up for two nights, then ten more (in anticipation of my friend’s arrival)! I’ve never stayed in one place this long so I wasn’t sure how it would work out, but I was happy to pay $10/night and hunker down for a while to test it out.
In an attempt to establish some normalcy, I decided to create a “schedule” for my day. Various “duties” include reading about the plants and animals of the area; Spanish lessons, writing in my journal, bird-watching and working on the blog.
I try to have my “work” done by 4:00 pm so I can walk around the neighborhood in the evening and get to know a few of my neighbors. If I plan to take a shower, this is the time to do it, after the solar has had a chance to work. Dinner, reading and watching YouTube videos of other RVers* takes up the rest of the evening. Maybe not exciting to you, but it gives me some structure and purpose.
*Note: Since I don’t have a TV, I’ve been binge watching some great YouTube videos. Here are a few I enjoy:
Carolyn’s RV Life – she is brutally honest, witty, informative and fun! She lives in a class C motorhome and is an expert boondocker.
Bob Well’s Cheap RV Living – he is the “daddy” of this movement (in my opinion). His practical advice has helped hundreds – if not thousands – transition into a lifestyle that they can be proud of.
Nomadic Fanatic – Eric’s cinematography is polished, his drone views are outstanding and his sense of humor is the BEST! I love it when he takes the cat, Jax, out for a ride in the stroller. Too funny.
We’re the Russos– this young couple has been on the road for a couple of years. Last year Joe and Kait downsized from a big class A to a neat little Hymer Camper Van. Start from the beginning and see how they live a classy (and hard-working) lifestyle.
Humble Road – George has a great sense of humor, does an amazing job with his filming and editing, and is very creative with the remodel of his not-so-old PleasureWay camper.
Campervan Kevin – Another long-time RVer and YouTube personality. Kevin is laid back, funny and informative.
Ultramobility – Neil is very professional, analytical, innovative and thought-provoking. Check out all his videos to see what type of a buyer you are, the advantages of certain popular brands of class B vans, and much more (now with his new 360-degree camera)!
That should keep you busy for awhile. If not, be sure to check the sidebar, there are some fine bloggers that I follow, too.
After a few days at Roosevelt Lake, my Colorado friend called to let me know she had to cancel her trip due to bad weather. Later that day, my Tucson buddy let me know he had to make an emergency trip to Nashville because of an illness in his family. Holy smokes! What do I do now? My “rent” was paid until the 19th, but there was rain in the forecast and no one to help pass the time. My Nervous Nelly kicked in as I contemplated the next ten days. Will my solar panel work in cloudy weather? Will I be able to use the solar showers? What if my battery dies and I can’t start the van? Is this going to be really boring? Will I be stuck in the van all day and all night? Will I be warm enough?
When in doubt, move about.
For starters, I visited the nearby Tonto National Monument. Above are pictures of the ruin and views along the walk up to the site.
Back at the Visitor Center, I was excited to see a lone Cardinal perched in the tree. This was a first for me!
I’ve also encountered the Gila Woodpecker (right top) and Gilded Flicker (bottom) sitting atop a Saguaro cactus while the Curved Bill Thrasher (right bottom) and Gambel’s Quail (left) scurry around the underbrush. (The pictures below are from the internet since I don’t have a wildlife photography set up.)
These desert-dwellers, along with wrens, sparrows, crows, ducks, eagles, and geese keep this bird-watcher busy.
You can see from my pictures that I am in Saguaro country. The intriguing cactus pictured below is tucked into a ravine (or Arroyo) that I pass by on my daily walk. You might not be able to tell from the pictures, but this grandmother cactus looks to be about 40′ -50′ tall, has numerous arms, lots of woodpecker condos (holes) and a stick nest fit for a wood rat family or Big Bird.
The book 70 Common Cacti of the Southwest has this to say, in part, about the mighty Saguaro:
The monarch of the desert is one of the largest cacti anywhere; perhaps it is the tallest…
…After a great many years, saguaros may branch; most commonly all branches arise from one level on the plant, high above the ground. Occasionally, additional branches form even higher up. The saguaro, when young, produces heavy, thick, dark spines. As it becomes old enough to flower, around fifty years of age, the spines formed on new growth are thin, almost bristle-like, and light in color…
This ecosystem is also chock full of several types of cholla and prickly pear cactus.
Chances are, you are familiar with the above cactus. But have you ever seen anything like the two below? Probably not, because the Crested Saguaro is very rare. One of my camping friends took me on a tour on the other side of the lake and made it a point to show these to me.
Yes! Fellow campers are friendly and helpful! I would never have run into these on my own.
The days at the Lake flew by faster than the elusive little hummingbird (yes, there are several here too) and all of my concerns were for naught. My solar panels and refrigerator worked fine, the van was large enough and comfy, and critters didn’t nest under the hood (see picture below).
A desert camping tip: prop your hood up and put a light in at night to discourage the pack rats from nesting in your engine or chewing through the wiring. Apparently, they don’t like to work in the dark.
I got a couple of warm showers, in spite of the cloudy weather, and flushing was less than 50 steps away.
I met new friends from Grand Junction, Wyoming, Hawaii, Hot Sulphur Springs, – and more! I even ran into some folks from Glenwood Springs whom I’ve known casually for years. I was never bored or lonely!
Just like the bridge near the Roosevelt Dam, I have crossed over from being a timid traveler to a more confident and eager participant in life. I arrived at last! All I had to do was show up, step outside, smile and introduce myself!
Thank you for your loyalty, friendship, and support! YOU are what makes this blog fun! Come with me as I head south, seeking sunshine and more adventures.