Posts Tagged Arizona
Jeff and I spent Christmas and New Years in Why, Arizona. After being in the big city of Mesa for 6 weeks it was time to get to some desolation, isolation and motivation of the desert.
Why Why, Arizona?
It was supposed to be our launch site to travel to Rocky Point, Mexico just 80 miles to the south. Beachside living, endless shrimp dining and the sound of waves lulling us to sleep. It would be our first Mexico crossing in the RV and we had our dog health certificate and passports ready.
But when we went online to get our insurance, we were shocked to say the least! $600 for a two-week stay in Mexico! OUCH!!!
As much as we were looking forward to spending New Years in Mexico, the $600 spend was just too much for us to justify. The waves. The sand. The shrimp. They would all have to wait for another time. We were spending NYE in Why, Arizona.
Don’t feel bad though. Once we got over our visions of beachside grandeur we settled in nicely to our new surroundings while free camping on Bureau of Land Management property.
This is our third winter in the desert southwest and we love it here.
Not many years ago, I would be on a flight over the Southwest and think, “Why would anyone want to live there”? Brown. Dull. Dusty. Void of any green. It always seemed to lack any beauty or color.
But what I’ve learned the last three winters is if you spend a little time in the desert she will show you her true colors.
You see. The beauty of the desert is cast low in those few minutes of sunrise and sunset. When the sun is making itself known and when it finishes its day. It casts a glowing spell on the desert, turning it into the beautiful creature that she is. Texture. Dimension. Color. It’s all there if you are patient!
Our BLM spot is just north of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Organ Pipe is a UNESCO biosphere reserve that stretches 517 square miles along the boarder of Mexico. It is the only place in the US where the Organ Pipe Cactus grows wild. It got its name due to its shape that looks similar to the pipes of an organ.
Right at the perimeter of the reserve there is a distinct change in the landscape.
What’s flat, barren and brown suddenly turns to rolling hills, black volcanic rock and a lush green. Well…as “lush” as a desert can be. But it is beautiful and very different than the mid-west landscape that I grew up seeing.
Our camping area is in a hotbed of illegal border crossings, drug trade and human trafficking. For the most part, they leave us campers alone. Unless you happen to leave out a water bottle or leave bicycles unlocked. You may wake up to some things missing. The dessert is scattered with rusty bike skeletons that didn’t hold up the rigors of a rugged desert crossing.
There are endless ATV roads scattered all over this place that are under the watchful eye of the Border Patrol via helicopters, trucks and 4-wheelers. Their presence is felt, seen and heard at all times. I had a helicopter swoop down over my head while out on a run…just to say, “I know you are there”.
The trail running was great and Jeff decided to ride his bike 27-miles to the Mexico border on Christmas Day where I picked him up in the truck. Then he had to outdo himself by running from the border to our campsite on New Years Day. His run was a bit eventful. Four drug smugglers darting across the road mere steps from him in broad daylight. All five of them were startled! Jeff later looked at his Strava from his run and saw the spike in his heart rate at that moment. Everyone went their own ways and we called the incident into the border patrol.
The community of Why has a Christmas day potluck at the local community center. For $5 each, the town provided the turkey and ham, while the attendees brought in the side dishes. It was a great deal, super food and a lot of fun visiting with the winter locals of this tiny community.
Though the desert here was nice, we never quite felt settled. We would check and double check if things were locked and we turned on a few more lights to take the dog out after dark. Even Sam was on edge since coyotes would run right through our campsite.
After two weeks we finally pulled up stakes and made our way to Yuma.
We stayed in Yuma 2 years ago and didn’t particularly enjoy our stay at Mitrey Lake. Between mosquitoes and mice we weren’t sure we would ever come back. But cooler heads prevailed and we decided to give it another go.
This time we headed to BLM at American Girl Mine off of Olgilby and boy were we so glad we gave this town another go. That location turned into one of our favorite campsites ever!
It might be a bit barren for some folks, but for us it was boondocking perfection. Full exposure to sun for solar charging. Well-groomed wide roads. As much or as little privacy as you want. ENDLESS and I mean ENDLESS trails to run. No worry about coyotes for Sam or drug runners for us. Lightening fast Internet. And those sunsets!
We just could not get enough of this place!
Yuma is the closest city to the Los Algodones border crossings. We crossed the border two years ago and found a delightful restaurant that we wanted to go back to. And since we didn’t make it to Rocky Point the previous week we decided to walk to Los Algodones for a dental cleaning and some lunch.
This was our first experience with Mexico dental. I say “our”, but Jeff was the guinea pig.
It was an AMAZING experience, and we will not longer be hesitant at taking the plunge. We picked a dentist that was highly recommended by other FT RV’ers that we personally know and decided to walk to the office a couple days before his appointment to make sure we knew where she was. And if you have any hesitation about walking there yourself, the dental office will send someone to meet you at the border to escort you to their door.
One thing you have to be prepared for when crossing the border is the bombardment of sales folks trying to sell you the exact same thing the guy right across the street is selling. Pharmaceuticals, dentists, eyeglasses and your typical assortments of trinkets, jewelry, blankets and cowboy hats are about it for this small town. A polite “no thank you” is enough to put a stop to it, until you hit the next booth.
While at lunch one day a nice lady from a local “spa” stopped by and gave me a free 1-minute shoulder massage while I drank my margarita. Her skills were impressive, and we actually went to her shop a couple days’ later and got $13 pedicures.
Our original intent was to stay in Yuma for a week before heading to Quartzsite, where our fellow Xscapers RV club was having a convergence. But Olgilby Road was just too perfect a spot to breeze through and we stayed for two weeks.
We did get to see our RV buddies Flying the Koop, Mike and Donna. It had been a while and they were blowing through town on their way from San Diego to Phoenix. Our time was short, but oh so sweet. We will get to see them a bit more after Q.
Well, onward to Q for the largest gathering RV’ers on earth!
I made reservations at Trailer Village at the Grand Canyon a couple of months ago so we pressed on after 3 nights in Flagstaff.
This is the third time Jeff and I have been to the Grand Canyon. Our first trip was after a sales conference in Scottsdale about 7-8 years ago. It was December and we only had a few hours to explore. So we hit the South Rim and the restaurant in the Village at Bright Angel Lodge.
Our table was overlooking the rim with spectacular views. Our brief time was enough to create a longing to come back to spend more time at one of the Wonders of the World.
And that’s exactly what we did last year (2014). A group of us from Arkansas trained for about a year in order to do the Rim2Rim (And Rim2Rim2Rim), crossing the Canyon from South Rim to North Rim via the Bright Angel trail and the North Kaibab trail. You can read all about the experience here.
After completing such a hike we were left with wanting more. So here we are. At the Grand Canyon. Planning another epic hike into the bowels of the canyon.
This time we wanted to start and finish on the South Rim so we chose to go down the South Kaibab trail to the Colorado River and up Bright Angel…for me (Rim2River2Rim). Jeff on the other hand wanted to do a double, so he started at Bright Angel down to the river then up South Kaibab. Then, turn around and head back. (Rim2River2Rim2River2Rim)
The plan was for Jeff to leave at 1am and get to the South Kaibab TH by the time I was starting my hike at 6am.
We arrived at the GC on Thursday hoping to do our hike on Saturday. But thunderstorms were predicted and the hike was called off for the day. Then Sunday…Monday…Tuesday…Wednesday. We had rain, rain and more rain, hail and wind gusts until the weather finally broke the day before we were to leave.
There is a lot of preparation that goes into a 10-15 hour hike, especially when the canyon had some of its water sites shut off
due to repairs. Water, nutrition, extra socks, moleskins, headlamps, electrolytes filled our slim running packs.
We had prepared as best we could and the hike was finally on!
Jeff left at 1am sharing that at some points in the hike he stopped on the trail, turned his headlamp off and just took in the stillness, the quietness, the moon and stars in the canyon. Not another soul around. Totally unplugged. Just him and the trail.
I met Jeff about 7:30am halfway down the South Kaibab. What a refreshing face to see! We got to share our experiences up to that point and enjoy a snack before heading our separate ways…him going up…me going down.
The day before the hike I wasn’t feeling up to doing the 18 miles of Rim2River2Rim. So my plan was to hit the Tonto Trail off the South Kaibab which heads west to the Bright Angel trail…cutting off 1000’ elevation drop/gain and 5 miles. But I took my first 10 steps on SK and I new I had to make the full journey down.
I am so glad I chose the longer route. The dramatic cliff views made green and lush from the week of rain. Trickles of water were flowing out of the rocks. Such a fresh smell in the air. It’s all too grand, broad, high, and vast to take in. I couldn’t open my eyes wide enough!
While hiking down I heard a clop, clop, clop sound up in the hills above me only to see my first mule train carrying supplies down to Phantom Ranch. The mules are bred for their solid disposition and sure footing to take packs and people below the rim. Though they had moved out of sight, I could still hear the clopping down below as they continued on.
The SK trail is narrower than BA trail and a little more worse for ware. The mules have worn a steady path into the trail, sometimes 12” deep. And with the recent rains had created a couple miles of deep puddles and sticky mud to navigate.
After 4 hours I made it to Phantom Ranch, 4600’ below the South Rim, to rest, eat and fill up my water bottles. An hour later Jeff had made it back down and joined me there.
I stayed long enough to dip my feet into the Bright Angel Creek before starting the steady climb back up and up and up.
The BA trail is the least steep of trails out of the canyon. From last year I knew that I was in for a hike at the Devils Switchbacks. I was dreading them from the moment I left Phantom Ranch. I remembered them to be numerous, steep and grand. But Jeff and I arrived at Indian Gardens to realize that we had already hiked them. My mind had made them dramatically different than it actually was…to my great relief!
Things look incredibly different when you hike the trails from a different direction. Last year I hiked down the BA trail. This year I was hiking it up and I couldn’t remember most of the trail. Everything looked new. Like I had never hiked this trail before. It was a completely different perspective!
For 4.5 hours we hiked switchbacks with heavy legs and heaving chests as we climbed to higher elevations until we finally crested the top. The glorious, level, finally stop moving, TOP!
The Grand Canyon is one tough hike. But I think the majestic views; the grandness of it all feeds the senses to a point of a natural high that carries you along the trail, one foot in front of the other.
I’m not going to lie…my legs and chest hurt for days. But my memories of this epic hike will last me a lifetime, which should more than cover my momentary pain.
Grand Canyon. I WILL be back!
PS…We were once again camping with our friends John and Becky and also Paul and Nina of WheelingIt. We had fun with Happy Hour and a grilled pizza night…in the rain…which will make for good story telling in the future.
While we were hiking Paul and Nina were gracious enough to keep Sam for us. It was hysterical to see Sam and Polly together. They were like two long lost pals who where on their first date. I’ve never seen two dogs kiss each other. No, really. They were actually kissing each other. Polly giving Sam sideway glances. Sam sitting as close as he possible could to Polly. It was all so amusing!
Sam had a great time with the WheelingIt crew. I hope we can return the favor sometime soon!
The big Q is over and we are on our way back to Arkansas. Quartzsite was a big success for many who sell their wares for a living.
Many of the items sold in the big tent are the same things you see at most of the RV shows. LED light bulbs, towing products, sewer hoses, telescoping flagpoles.
But there were a few booths that caught my eye and thought their products were something to write home about.
I know, not very unique in its own right. But the ice cream “booth” was packed from the moment it was open until it closed. These guys are here every year and a sought after treat by the patrons.
The owner was ornery and a bit unfriendly. But what he lacked in personal sweetness was made up for in his generous proportions of scooped creamy deliciousness. Everything was $4 no matter 1 scoop or 2, cup or cone. And the helpings…ginormous!
You pay the man first and collect your ticket and stand in one of 8 lines that form in front of ice cream freezers. There are 12 flavors to choose from and you can mix your scoops. My favorite? A scoop of black cherry and a scoop of chocolate. Ooooohhhh myyyyy!
THE ULTIMATE TRIP
One of the bucket list trips for most RV’ers is a journey to Alaska. It’s a trip that requires a bit more planning for those of us who tend to wing it. http://www.NorthtoAlaska.com makes the planning easy by providing free information on 3 major routes.
Canada and Alaska got together to promote tourism to their country and state. Canada realized that many people were driving through their country (naturally) to get to Alaska without making it a destination as well. So the two got their heads together to outline various routes, attractions and overnight accomodations for RV’ers. The information can be used for the solo traveler or if you prefer to go with an organized group, they will hook you up with others looking to caravan.
The volunteers were very knowledgeable and have driven these routes themselves. They were ready to share their enthusiasm for their country/state and their love of RV travel.
It is a great service and all free. www.northtoalaska.com. Check it out!
COOK TOP GRILL
Ok. So this product may not be new or revolutionary. But our booth was right behind Tony and he himself was unique. He makes a nice living demoing different cooking products 12 hours a week at festivals and RV shows, Quartzsite being his biggest and longest show. (So bummed that I didn’t get a picture of Tony)
Tony was demonstrating a Stove Top Grill right behind our booth. And with the prevailing north to south winds our little curtain could not contain the smell of garlic and bacon. ALL. WEEK. LONG!
The Stove Top Grill works on gas or electric ranges, gas grills or campfires. It had a drip pan to prevent flare-ups, was easy to clean and small enough to store in your camper.
His humor and strategic use of fatty pork and garlic draws his customers to his booth all the while charming them with his easy personality and quick whit. This guy was goooood!
Of course being booth neighbors netted us an endless supply of tasty samples that would mysteriously appear on a toothpick through the curtain like magic!
SNOW REGION GIFT SHOP
This booth was selling beautiful cashmere scarves for $15 (two for $25) and yak wool throws for $35. I was drawn to this booth for the quality of the products at very reasonable prices. I picked up a beautiful yak wool throw that was super soft and extra warm. Watch out for the shedding. My hiking pants picked up the fibers and coated them before I knew what was happening. I was ensured that this would stop after my first washing.
They are machine washable but must be line dried.
The owner, Loden Tsering (Sorry, no website) was a sweet gal and I found out that her parents were from Tibet. They fled the country for India during the Chinese invasion (1951). Loden was born on their way to India. She has lived in California now for about 6 years and travels to festivals, trade shows and farmers markets to sell her beautiful Tibetan products.
Well, those where my vendor highlights for Quartzsite as we finish up at the big show. This is one of those places you need to experience for yourself at least once, if you can bring yourself to terms with the crowds, plentiful scooters and dogs in strollers.
It has a carnival atmosphere with flee market vibe full of interesting people who are traveling this amazing country in their home on wheels.
Quartzsite 2016…we will be back!
Jeff and I are having a hard time deciding where we are going next. I know…tough problem, right?
This RV travel planning was easy when we had events on our calendar. But once the Rim2Rim/Rim2Rim2Rim at the Grand Canyon and Ironman Arizona in Phoenix was over, we found ourselves in a “throw the dart” moment on where to point the RV.
So, how do you decide where to go when you don’t have to be anywhere?
Here are some things that helped us finally hitch up the RV and go.
1. Just pick the next stop. We got stuck trying to figure out the next 2 months at one time. So rather than throwing darts (which I don’t recommend in a small RV…you’ll poke your eye out) draw a 150 mile circle around your current location to narrow your choices on where to stop next.
2. If you don’t like the destination, hook up and move.
We had another RV’er tell us, “we have wheels under our homes for a reason and we can use them any time we like!”.
Too hot…hook up and move. Neighbor with loud music or barking dog…hook up and move. Don’t like the local ice cream…hook up and move.
There is comfort in knowing that if you don’t enjoy your destination you can leave and go somewhere else…unless it is your Mother-in-laws house for the holidays. Then it’s best to stick around as long as your wife says.
- Look at where others have gone before.
Consult your favorite RVing blogs to see where they have gone. This helped us find our current free BLM campsite in Yuma.
- Check out a cities calendar of events on their website.
Once you narrow down your search, pull up the cities calendar of events to see if they are doing something that interests you. We saw that Lake Havasu is having a festival of lights, lighted boat parade and an ugly Christmas sweater 5K in December. Who wouldn’t want to run a 5K in the dessert in a hot ugly Christmas sweater?
- Look for inspiration
A relative’s birthplace, a memorable childhood camping trip, a place you have always wanted to see. For us, Jeff’s Mom was born in Yuma. We felt a pull to visit while she still had some memory and stories of the place that would bring the town to life.
Surprisingly, picking our next destination has been the hardest and biggest surprise so far about full time RVing. But with a little bit of thought, research and inspiration we have managed to pull up the jacks and move on down the road 150 miles further.
Now, where did I put those ugly sweaters?
Jeff and I have been on the road now for 4 months. We tend to gravitate towards trees, hills or mountains and higher altitudes so that we have natural air conditioning to keep us comfortable.
But as November comes into view and talk of a Polar Vortex descending out of Alaska, we made a run for the flats of the Arizona desert.
But after the first evening at Lake Pleasant, AZ, what I discovered was that the real beauty of the dessert is found in the sunrises and sunsets as the sun casts low on the horizon.
Hills and mountains begin to glow red, pink , orange and purple and cacti cast dark humanlike shadows. The sky is big and unobstructed and the complete darkness allows you to see galaxies beyond. Throw in a yipping coyote for good measure and you have the making of an incredible, surprising western experience.
Oh yes…the dessert. I am now a huge fan!