Trash Collecting, Fitbit, Art In the Park, Monsoon Approaching

Good Tuesday morning, everyone, from our summer camp in the Coconino National Forest near Flagstaff, Arizona! It’s about 6:30 AM, the sun is shining, skies are blue, and it was a chilly 36° outside when I got up this morning.

The weather has been near-perfect so we’ve been spending a lot of time outdoors. I’ve been doing a lot of hiking on the trails around here (Andy goes with me occasionally). Almost every time we go out, we see deer in the woods. We saw a skunk the other day (fortunately it was a safe distance away), and we’ve even encountered a coyote. Over the weekend, the area was pretty busy with ATVs and dirt bikes riding the trails, but now that the holiday weekend has passed, the forest is once again quiet and peaceful.

Aspen grove near our campsite

I’ve been exploring some new trails, and on one of my recent hikes I was disappointed to find litter along the path, mostly in the form of old, flattened beer cans. I had a spare plastic bag in my backpack, so I tied it to my beltloop and started collected the trash as I came across it. In addition to cans, I found shotgun shell casings, half of a skillet, and old tin coffeepot, and other general debris. I had a bag full by the time I got back to the rig.

This area is actually pretty clean as compared to some others where we’ve camped. But it still irritates me when I come across evidence of the laziness and thoughtlessness of people who think it’s acceptable to simply toss their trash on the forest floor. It has gotten so bad in some places that the Forest Service and the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) have actually closed off areas of public land from recreational use because of all the litter and/or damage caused to the land from off-road vehicles.

Not sure what kind of flower this is, but they just started blooming this week

We can all help to keep these beautiful public lands accessible to us by remembering to:

  • Pack it in, pack it out. That includes human waste and used toilet paper.
  • Keep your motorized vehicles on approved, marked trails (maps are available from the Forest Service or BLM offices in the area).
  • Carry a small trash bag with you on your hikes and pick up any litter you find along the way. Be the better person.

On Sunday, I decided to start wearing my Fitbit again. I haven’t worn it at all since we moved into the RV back in August of last year. I almost didn’t bring it with me because it’s just another device that has to be charged up. But I was starting to get curious about how much effort I was expending on these hikes, so I’ve resurrected the Fitbit as well as a couple of apps (mainly Walkmeter) that I use for fitness. I know it’s not the same for everyone, but for me, the Fitbit and the apps provide motivation to get some exercise and push myself to stay healthy.

My Fitbit monitors my heart rate, and after wearing it for a couple of days, I’ve seen that my resting heart rate is a little higher than it used to be. I’m not sure how much of that is related to the altitude where we are, but it may also be related to the few pounds of extra weight I’ve acquired since we’ve been on the road. We don’t have a scale with us, so I’m not sure exactly what I weigh now, but I can tell by my clothes that I have a few pounds that I need to shed. I’m hoping that the Fitbit will make me mindful of my food and exercise choices.

There are some huge boulders along these hiking trails

Last Saturday we went to the Flagstaff Art in the Park festival at Wheeler Park near the historic downtown area. They had over 100 vendors displaying all sorts of artwork, jewelry, metalwork, textiles, etc. There was live entertainment, great food with lots of vegan options, and a beer garden.

I did a little Christmas shopping while we browsed the booths, and I even won a “prize”! With Andy being a silversmith, we were especially drawn to the booths displaying handmade silver jewelry. As we approached one booth, I noticed that their banner read “Sliver by Skip”. I thought that was unusual, so I spoke to the couple behind the display and said “Sliver by Skip? That’s an unusual name.”

Their faces both lit up, and the lady said, “You’re the very first person to notice that!”, and the gentleman said “You win the prize!!”

Turns out, the banner had a typo and they had not noticed it when they first received it from the printer. Of course, it should have read “Silver by Skip”, but they were headed out on the road for a couple of festivals and didn’t have time to have it reprinted. The gentleman presented me with a small display rack of stone necklaces and told me I could choose one, which I did. We all had a good laugh, and I wore the necklace for the rest of the day.

We hung out for a couple of hours, enjoying some vegan samosas and gelato while listening to the live music. However when the belly dancers took the stage, we decided it was time to head back to the rig (gotta give them credit for doing their thing, but they weren’t the best dancers I’d ever seen).

Today we’ll be headed into Flagstaff to have breakfast and then do some grocery shopping.

It looks like the weather will be taking a turn toward rain this week. The summer monsoon season is finally getting cranked up here in Flagstaff, if the forecast is to be believed. The temperatures will continue to be very moderate, but it looks like we’ll finally get some rain, which we haven’t had since the first couple of days that we were here. It will be nice to maybe get the dust settled a little bit, but the summer storms always increase of the risk of lightning-caused wildfires. We’re going to keep our fingers crossed that the rains will be gentle and the lightning stays in the sky where it belongs.

Rain in the forecast, finally

We hope you are enjoying your summer, wherever you are!

Thanks for taking time to read our blog! Feel free to share it with family and friends who might be interested in full-time RV living. If you want to keep up with our adventures, please subscribe. And you can also find us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads if you want to keep up with us between blog posts.

Safe travels!

Our 28th Anniversary, Flagstaff Folk Festival, Forest Fire Awareness

Happy 4th of July, fellow Americans! Hope you’re having a safe and relaxing holiday as we celebrate the birthday of our country!

July 4th just happens to also be our wedding anniversary, and today marks 28 years since we tied the knot on a hot summer day in Houston, Texas. We’ve had a lot of adventures and we’ve taken some big risks in those 28 years, but nothing like what we’re currently doing! The fact that we have enough love between us and faith in each other to risk selling our house and all our possessions to go traveling around the country in a little RV–that says a lot, doesn’t it? We’re having a grand old time, and we’re both looking forward to many more years together, sharing life wherever it takes us!

We’re still loving the wildflowers that continue to bloom in “our yard”

We don’t have anything special planned for today. Andy took the rig into Flagstaff this morning to dump the tanks and refill the fresh water. When he got back we fixed our usual lunch–a huge chopped salad with homemade cashew-herb dressing, a cup of pinto beans, and a graham cracker with marshmallow creme for dessert. This afternoon Andy’s getting a shower while I work on the bookkeeping and the blog. This evening, we’ll have some Thai peanut noodles that I made last night, along with a bottle of wine that we’ve been saving for a special occasion. We thought about going out to dinner, but we don’t like to leave the rig unattended at night when we’re boondocking.

We’re still parked in the Coconino National Forest just northwest of Flagstaff, Arizona, enjoying the beautiful alpine summer weather. It’s pretty quiet most of the time, but with today being a holiday, there are a lot of dirt bikes, ATV’s, bicycles and just regular traffic going by, raising the dust. I even saw a big Class A go by a few minutes ago, the first one of those we’ve seen since we’ve been up here. But Andy said that he saw a lot of empty camping spots further down the hill when he drove into town this morning, so it looks like most of these people are just up here for the day.

Another colorful sunset last night–everything had a pink tint!

We had a good time this past Sunday, attending the second day of the Flagstaff Folk Festival, held on the grounds of the Pioneer Museum. We weren’t really sure what to expect so we didn’t plan to stay more than a couple of hours, but if we’re here next year at this same time, we’ll definitely plan to stay longer. They had five different stages with different acts performing for about 30-45 minutes each. They also had places set aside for workshops and jam sessions, along with food vendors and arts/crafts.

We heard all types of music, mostly with acoustic instruments, played by people of all ages. Some of the venues were outdoors, one was in an old barn, one was in the art gallery. We thoroughly enjoyed (almost) all the music, and we applaud the people of Flagstaff for hosting this enjoyable event!

I recorded a few clips from some of the performers and strung them together into a short video:

Otherwise, things are pretty quiet around here. I took a longer-than-usual hike on Monday on a trail I hadn’t been on before, and saw several groups of deer along the way. I had planned to go 45 minutes out and then turn around, but at the end of 45 minutes, I could hear traffic sounds, so I kept going to see where I came out, and it was on Highway 180 north of where we’re camped. It ended up being a two-hour hike and I was pretty tired by the time I got back to the rig, but thoroughly enjoyed the scenery.

Beautiful greenery along the hiking trail

Yesterday we treated ourselves to the lunch special at Fratelli Pizza (our current addiction) and then did our grocery shopping for the next five or six days. Real exciting stuff!

Speaking of excitement, we had a little jolt this morning. We had just sat down at the table to have our cinnamon rolls and coffee (a little anniversary treat), and when I opened the blinds over the dinette, we saw about five or six Forestry Service trucks parked across the road from us. One truck was marked as a fire-fighting truck.

We were immediately concerned because this is the season for wildfires here in the Southwest, but we didn’t see or smell any smoke. We didn’t want to be nosy so we didn’t walk over to ask them what was going on, and after about twenty minutes they all left. However, later this afternoon we did hear that there is a small (just over 3 acres as of last report) wildfire between here and Flagstaff.

I have subscribed to the Twitter feed for the Coconino National Forest, as well as the wildfire incident reporting authorities, and I get text alerts whenever they post any kind of updates on wildfires in the area, or anywhere in Arizona. If you’ve been reading the blog for awhile, you might remember that we got evacuated from the Hilltop Campground in the Prescott National Forest due to a nearby wildfire back in April. Things are a lot drier now, so we keep a close eye on weather conditions and news reports. And that’s another reason why we don’t leave the rig unattended for more than a few hours at a time–if anything happens, we want to make sure we can respond quickly and take appropriate action to protect the rig, the kitties, and ourselves.

It is illegal to use any kind of fireworks in the National Forests, so we’re really hoping that the people who are playing or camping in the area around us today will do so safely and leave the pyrotechnics out of it. I would hate to have my anniversary ruined by some idiot with a bottle rocket!!

Thanks for taking time to read our blog! Feel free to share it with family and friends who might be interested in full-time RV living. If you want to keep up with our adventures, please subscribe. And you can also find us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads if you want to keep up with us between blog posts.

Safe travels!

Monthly Expense Report – June 2019 – Full-time RV Living

It’s time once again for our monthly expense report where we share the costs associated with our full-time RV life. We live in a 24′ Thor Chateau 22E Class C RV with our two cats, Maggie and Molly. We do not have a sticks-and-bricks home base, but travel wherever the weather takes us as we chase 70°.

First, a reminder of the caveats related to our expenses. Every RVer is different–different rig, different diet, different interests–so our expenses are unique to us. Also, I’m not going to share every single personal expense that we incur each month, but only the ones that are directly related to our RV life in some way.

We’ve just completed ten full months on the road. In this post, I’ll be sharing the most recent three months’ expenses as well as our average-to-date for comparison, since line items can change drastically from month to month.

We spent the entire month of June in a free boondocking site in the Coconino National Forest on Forest Road 151 (also known as Hart Prairie Road), off Highway 180 northwest of Flagstaff. The weather has been near-perfect for boondocking, and there are plenty of empty camping spots along this road so we haven’t felt any pressure to leave this area.

Re-positioned the rig so that it’s parked in the shade

Because we stayed in one spot all month and didn’t move the rig except to dump the tanks and refill propane and water, our expenses were lower than average in June. We also cut back our spending on food and dining out, and we didn’t have any major issues with the rig or the truck. As a result of all that, we had our lowest expenses of any month since we’ve been on the road. HOORAY!! 🙂

Here are our expenses for the past three months:

Camping fees + Electricity

April: $168 – We boondocked for free on Bloody Basin Road (BLM land), as well as our current location in the National Forest. We paid $126 ($9/night for 14 nights) at Hilltop Campground, and the remainder is the prorated cost of our annual passes to New Mexico state parks and the BLM LTVAs (expired April 15).

May: $207 – We boondocked for free for 24 of the 31 nights. The seven nights we spent in the Grand Canyon Railway RV Park in Williams cost us $27/night which was a 50% discount on their normal rates with our Passport America membership, for a total of $189. The remainder is the prorated cost of our annual pass to New Mexico state parks (expires October 31).

June: $17 – We boondocked for free for the entire month in the National Forest, so there were no out-of-pocket expenses. The $17 is the monthly prorated cost of our annual pass to New Mexico state parks (expires October 31).

Ten month average: $166

DUMPING FEEs

April: $50 – Dumped once in Wickenburg ($10) on April 1 on our way to Bloody Basin Road, then twice while we were boondocked there. We had to dump at the local RV parks, which charged $20. While we were camped at Hilltop Campground, we dumped at Affinity RV Service in Prescott Valley where they offer free dumps and water.

May: $42 – We didn’t have to pay to dump while we had full hookups in Williams. While staying on FR 320, we dumped three times at an RV park in Tusayan for $14 per visit. Technically, we could have driven into the Grand Canyon National Park and dumped at their campground for free, but we still would have had to visit the Tusayan RV park to buy propane, and Andy decided it was easier to just get everything done at one location.

June: $40 – We dumped the tanks and refilled our fresh water four times at Black Bart’s RV Park in Flagstaff at $10/visit.

Ten month average: $32

Fuel for the RV

April: $141 – We moved three times, and filled up the rig each time we moved. We drove a total of 331 miles and used the generator a total of 20.7 hours. We bought 48 gallons of gas, and averaged approximately 8.5 MPG, net of generator use. Our average gas price in April was $2.94/gallon–it’s definitely going up.

May: $111 – We moved three times, but only filled up the rig twice. We drove a total of 239 miles and used the generator 22.2 hours. We bought 34 gallons of gas and averaged approximately 9.6 MPG, net of generator use. Our average gas price in May was $3.22/gallon–another effect of being in a high-tourism area.

June: $62 – We filled up the RV one time toward the end of the month, and basically it was just the expense of running the generator all month plus taking the rig into town four times to dump the tanks. We bought 21 gallons of gas at $2.99/gallon, and ran the generator for 14.7 hours, and drove the rig 118 miles.

Ten month average: $142

Sometimes you get lucky and catch just the right light – San Francisco peaks from our campsite

Fuel for the Truck

April: $130 (45 gal, 18.2 MPG)

May: $115 (37 gal, 19.6 MPG)

June: $95 (30 gal, 19.5 MPG)

Ten month average: $128

PROPANE

April: $43 (17.6 gallons) – Although our propane use was just slightly higher, our cost was lower due to buying it in Arizona instead of California. The highest we paid was $3.09, the lowest was $1.90.

May: $76 (15.9 gallons) – Most of our propane purchases in May were at the RV park in Tusayan, where the cost was $4.85/gallon + tax = $5.28/gallon. They were the only propane supplier within reasonable driving distance, and they knew it and admitted it. We had some very cold weather, including sleet and snow, so we ran the furnace a little more than we usually do. Fortunately we had one week with full hookups in Williams when we were able to use the electric space heater, which offset at least a portion of the propane cost for the month.

June: $38 (12.5 gallons) – Warmer weather means less propane usage. And after the high prices in Tusayan last month, it was nice to get back to some reasonable propane prices. We filled up twice at Tractor Supply in Flagstaff, at $2.79/gallon.

Ten month average: $41

groceries

April: $575 – In addition to our usual grocery shopping, we stocked up on some bulk goods at Sprouts and Sam’s Club.

May: $464 – We were a little surprised at this number being down so much, as grocery prices in Williams and Flagstaff are a little higher than we’ve been paying. But when we saw what we spent on dining out (see below), the grocery figure made sense. Many of our restaurant meals involved doggie bags that provided us with an extra meal at home. And usually, when we ate lunch at a restaurant, we were too full to eat dinner later.

June: $466 – This was a fairly typical month for groceries, all of which were purchased at Walmart in Flagstaff.

Ten month average: $500

NOTE: We primarily eat a whole-foods, plant-based diet so we buy a lot of fresh produce and whole grains, along with some wine/beer. We buy very little processed foods in boxes and cans, although we do buy canned beans and tomatoes.

dining out

April: $201 – We drove up to Yarnell and met our friends John and Helen at Gilligan’s Pizza for lunch–so yummy! We also tried out a Thai restaurant in Prescott that was pretty good. We also visited Starbucks for a treat, and after our purchases on our loyalty cards, the balance on both our cards was below our threshold for automatic replenishment; so $50 of this month’s dining expenditure was just cash being reloaded on our Starbucks cards for future visits.

May: $464 – We spent way more than usual on eating out in May. We had a nice lunch in Sedona ($76); ate three times at the Grand Canyon Brewing Company which was conveniently located right across the street from the RV park where we stayed in Williams (twice we only had drinks and appetizer, total for three visits was $103);  ice cream and coffee at Twisters on Route 66 in Williams ($19); dinner at El Corral Mexican Restaurant on Route 66 in Williams ($41); two visits to We Cook Pizza in Tusayan ($71); brunch at Toasted Owl Cafe in Flagstaff ($49); lunch at the Bright Angel Lodge Harvey House Cafe in the Grand Canyon National Park ($37); breakfast at McDonald’s on the way to the Canyon ($26 – highway robbery!); and a few other miscellaneous charges including reloading Andy’s Starbucks card for $25. When we dine out, we pretty much order what we want and don’t worry about the prices, especially if it’s an unusual place with high-quality food. But hopefully we can get back on track in June and get this line item back in budget. 🙂

June: $192 – We did much better on dining out this month, thanks in large part to finding Fratelli Pizza in Flagstaff where they have a pizza-by-the-slice lunch special for $10 that we are now addicted to. We also visited Cornish Pasty Company in Flagstaff where they have delicious vegetarian/vegan options, and we also hit the local Pita Pit and IHOP (twice). Oh yeah, I think I remember stopping for some ice cream in the historic district one afternoon… 🙂

One slice of pesto and one slice of cheese pizza–delicious!

Ten month average: $239

NOTE: These numbers include coffee and snacks that we buy when we’re really there just to use the wi-fi. 🙂

household / furnishings

April: $546 – Includes $496 for new mattress, and $11 to dispose of old one.

May: $149 – Includes $76 for a new Blu-ray player to replace our old one that quit working. We don’t play DVDs very often, but while we were camped on FR 320 we had very little cellular service and could not do our usual streaming of Hulu and YouTube, so we fell back on our DVD collection. When the old Blu-ray player wouldn’t play the discs without freezing and skipping, we replaced it with a newer, “smarter” version from Walmart.

June: $25 – Nothing this month but the necessities.

Ten month average: $140

These numbers include things like toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning supplies, small household items for the kitchen, etc.

petcare

April: $70 – Stocked up on the newer dust-free litter as well as their treats.

May: $24 – Just food and litter.

June: $24 – Another month of just food and litter.

Ten month average: $58

These numbers include cat food, litter, treats and the occasional toy for our two kitties, Maggie and Molly. Will also include vet visits when needed.

verizon cellphone / internet

April: $276

May: $276

June: $276

Ten month average: $269

These numbers include a prorated charge for the purchase of our iPhones when we bought them in the fall of 2017. We both have the iPhone 8+ which we use for internet access as well as hotspot wi-fi for the laptop and the Roku. We are now on the AboveUnlimited data plan so we can go longer without getting throttled. Once the phones are paid off this fall, the monthly charge should drop by about $30/month unless the plan rates go up.

mail forwarding

April: $14 – Had mail forwarded to us twice, once in Prescott and once in Flagstaff.

May: $30 – Renewed our mail scanning service for another three months. This service allows us to see the front of the envelope that is sent to our mailing address in Livingston, Texas, and then we can choose to have it shredded or added to our next mail forwarding. Because of this scanning, we were able to see that there was nothing urgent in our mail this month, so we did not have anything forwarded to us in May. It will instead be held until our next forwarding request, probably in early June.

June: $7 – Had our mail forwarded one time, nothing of any interest in there. Probably won’t have it forwarded again until August.

Ten month average: $18

Laundry

April: $15 – Did laundry once in Prescott Valley.

May: $15 – Did laundry once at the RV park where we stayed in Williams. I also had to wash the top quilt on our bed because Maggie puked on it (she’s not sick, I think she just gagged on a hair in her throat). Oh, well, at least they’ve stopped peeing on it!! 🙂

June: $25 – It just worked out, timing-wise, that we did laundry twice this month (we usually average going to the laundromat about every three weeks).

Laundry Day – The chore that never goes away.

Ten month average: $20

attractions / entertainment

April: $51 – Just the monthly subscriptions listed below.

May: $58 – Just the monthly subscriptions listed below, plus a bag of assorted puzzle books that I picked up at the Goodwill store in Sedona. NOTE: We visited the Grand Canyon National Park several times for free with Andy’s “America the Beautiful” senior lifetime pass for which he paid $10, right before they increased the price to $80. But even at $80, it’s still a tremendous bargain if you visit any of the national parks or monuments, especially since it’s a lifetime pass. Can’t wait until I turn 62 so I can get mine!! 🙂

June: $85 – In addition to our monthly subscriptions (see below), we checked out the Flagstaff Folk Festival ($10).  We also purchased a few items to carry in our hiking packs in case of emergency (lessons learned from Andy’s big adventure). We visited the Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, but got in free with Andy’s “America The  Beautiful” senior pass (saved $25). We also visited the Arizona Snowbowl and took the chairlift ride to the top of the ski lift, but thanks to a fortuitous conversation with a couple in the parking lot, this excursion was also free (details here). This month we dropped our subscription to Netflix and replaced it with a subscription to Hulu, where I binge-watched 11 seasons of “Frasier” and am now working my way through “This Is Us”.

Our view on our way down on the Arizona Snowbowl chairlift

Ten month average: $82

Note: These numbers include our subscriptions to Hulu, Audible, Spotify, and Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited book plan, as well as entrance fees to places we visit.

memberships

April: $0

May: $127 – Annual renewal fee for Amazon Prime. Currently questioning whether or not we should drop this next year.

June: $0

Ten month average: $41

Equipment for RV

April: $7 – Blind spot mirrors, drain pan and funnel for generator oil change.

May: $0 – Hallelujah!!

June: $17 – New tire pressure gauge and valve caps.

Ten month average: $297 (Includes over $2K in solar equipment purchased in November 2018.)

RV Maintenance & REpairs

April: $63 – Bought PVC pipe to replace old dryer vent hose mounted under the rig to hold the “stinky slinky” (sewer drain hose), after the old dryer vent hose basically disintegrated. Also purchased air filters and oil to perform an oil change on the Onan generator.

May: $35 – Bought two replacement lights (the amber teardrop-shaped clearance lights) for the overhead cab area to try to prevent water leakage into the rig.

June: $15 – Bought SeaFoam gas treatment for the generator. We also purchased new LED light bulbs for the interior, but we used our Discover Card reward dollars for those.

Ten month average: $82

truck maintenance & repairs

April: $0

May: $0

June: $0

Nine month average: $8

NOTE: We drive a 2004 Toyota Tacoma PreRunner pickup with a camper shell on the back as our chase vehicle (not towed). It has just over 107K miles on it, and it’s super-dependable.

Vehicle insurance

We have insurance through Progressive and get a multi-vehicle discount. Right now we’re paying $57/mo for the RV. In March, the monthly cost for the truck increased from $40/mo to $49/mo.

VEhicle License and registration

Of course we paid the annual license and registration up front in September but for expense tracking purposes, I’m prorating it across the year. It’s $22/mo for the RV and $17/mo for the truck.

Summary

So those are our RV living expenses for the last three months:

April Total: $2,495

May Total: $2,337

June Total: $1,529

Ten month average: $2,401

After blowing our budget in May while staying in touristy spots like Williams, Arizona and the Grand Canyon, it feels good to have the purse strings under control again. An occasional indulgence is fine as long as we don’t make a habit of it!

We’re currently at about 8,100′ just northwest of Flagstaff, and the forecast calls for high temperatures between 75° to 85° for the next two weeks. It’s hard to predict exactly because the published forecast is for the city of Flagstaff, and we are about 1200′ higher than they are. As long as we don’t get too warm, we plan to stay in the Flagstaff area as long as we can. We like where we’re camped, and we like being in close proximity to good shopping and services.

We’ll continue to closely monitor our expenses and will report them here on a monthly basis. So if you’re interested, be sure to subscribe to this blog so you get all our updates. You can also find us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads to stay up with us between blog posts.

Settled In For Awhile, Amazon Lockers, Holiday Plans

Wow, it’s been ten days since I published an update to this blog. I kept thinking I would get around to it, but since things have been pretty laid-back lately, I didn’t have anything of real interest to report. But this morning I got a phone call from my Mom, and she was worried because there had been no blog updates or Instagram posts for awhile. So even if nobody else in the world notices that we haven’t communicated, we can always count on Mom to be looking out for us! We love you, Mom!! ❤

We are still in the same spot on Forest Road 151, north of Flagstaff, where we’ve been camped for four weeks now. We’re on a large pull-through site, and last week we re-positioned the rig so that it’s parked where it will get plenty of afternoon shade. Even though the afternoon temperatures are only in the 70’s, the inside of the rig can get 15-20 degrees warmer than the outside if we’re parked in direct sunlight. This spot in the shade keeps the rig very comfortable for us and the kitties. And since our solar panels are portable, we can keep them set up where they continue to get full sunlight.

Re-positioned the rig so that it’s parked in the shade

Most of our recreational activities since our last post have been taking hikes in the forest around us. We’ve found a couple more trails that we really like, one of which goes through a beautiful aspen grove that is shady and cool. The weather has been perfect for hiking–highs in the mid 70’s, with humidity levels around 15%.

Beautiful wispy clouds in a blue sky on one of my hikes

We’ve had no major issues with anything on the rig or the truck lately (knock on wood!). Our onboard generator (Onan 4000Kw) started running a little rough, so Handy Andy treated it to a little SeaFoam gas treatment, and it seems to be doing fine now. We also had to replace a few LED bulbs inside the rig, so we ordered them from Amazon and had them shipped to an Amazon locker in Flagstaff for pickup.

If you aren’t familiar with Amazon lockers, let me fill you in. They’re the best thing since sliced bread for nomads like us who need to have Amazon orders shipped to a physical address, which we don’t have anymore. They’re also perfect for people in sticks-and-bricks houses who are worried about packages getting stolen from their front porches. The Amazon lockers are just that–big metal lockers–which are located in brick-and-mortar businesses in mid-to-large size cities. We’ve used lockers in Tucson (located at a 24-hour convenience store), Anthem/Phoenix (located in a Chase Bank lobby), and Flagstaff (located inside Whole Foods).

If you want to use a locker, you simply do a search on Amazon.com to find the location of a locker near you, and add that location to your address book in Amazon. Then when you place your order, you select that address as your delivery location. When your order is delivered to the locker, you will receive a text message as well as an email which contains a numeric code that you will use to open the locker. The email will also have a bar code which can be scanned instead of entering the numeric code.

You simply go to the locker location where you’ll find a wall of lockers with a touchscreen pad. Enter your code or scan the bar code from your mobile device, and the locker door opens automatically so you can retrieve your package. It’s so cool!!

Amazon lockers in Tucson AZ

The important thing to remember is that you only have three days to retrieve your package from the locker, so make sure you get there on time. Right now the lockers are only in larger cities, but more are being added all the time. We highly recommend using them, especially if you’re away from home and need something shipped from Amazon pronto!!

We had originally planned to be in this location for two weeks, but with the perfect weather, beautiful scenery, and easy access to shopping and services in Flagstaff, we just haven’t felt the urge to move on. Yes, we would like to visit other places, but why leave perfection? Technically, we’ve overstayed our limit here, but there are plenty of open campsites on this road and no one has kicked us out yet, so we’re staying put for now.

That said, we have made some definite plans for the fall holiday season. We made reservations at Tombigbee State Park in Tupelo, Mississippi for two weeks in November so we can be with my family for Thanksgiving. I had hoped to find something  with full hookups a little closer to my parents’ home, but there doesn’t seem to be any such place. We could probably have dry-camped on a family member’s property, but we would be a long way from a dump station; so we decided to just go back to the same park where we spent our first week as full-timers after we sold our house. I’m really excited about getting to see my folks again, as we will have been on the road for almost fifteen months by then.

We’ll probably spend the summer here in the Flagstaff area, move over to New Mexico around September or October, working our way south toward the border, then start moving east across Texas in late October/early November, and then heading to Mississippi for Thanksgiving. And then, in December we’ll head west again to winter in Yuma.

But who knows? Plans are made to be broken! That’s why we don’t usually make reservations anywhere, but we did want to make sure that we had a place to park for Thanksgiving, so we went ahead and locked in our favorite campsite in Tombigbee SP.

So, in case you were wondering if we were still here, yes, we are. We’ve met some of our neighbors camping along the road here, and like us, they’re all planning to spend the summer here, so we’re not alone.

Not much snow left on the peaks now, but still beautiful

It’s hard to believe that June is almost over. And that means we have an expense report coming up soon. Be sure to watch for our next blog post where we let you know what it’s costing us to live full-time on the road.

Thanks for taking time to read our blog! Feel free to share it with family and friends who might be interested in full-time RV living. If you want to keep up with our adventures, please subscribe. And you can also find us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads if you want to keep up with us between blog posts.

Safe travels!

Springtime Catches Up to Us, Arizona Snowbowl, Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument

It’s another beautiful morning here in the Coconino National Forest near Flagstaff, Arizona. Our current location is just over 8100′ in elevation, so the weather is pretty near perfect. The highs have been in the 70’s and the nighttime lows in the high 30’s and low 40’s, with very low humidity and just an occasional shower to add some interest.

It has been really interesting watching the vegetation change in the time that we’ve been here (almost three weeks). When we first arrived, the aspens were still almost bare, with just a few leaf buds on them. Now they are fully leafed out, providing summer shade. The small yellow flowers that blanketed the ground when we got here have died out now, and have been replaced by wild irises, bluebonnets, and other species of flowers.

The bluebonnets have started blooming in the forest this week

Since we chase 70°, we move with the weather, so we have been treated to an extra long springtime. In fact, we were camped on Bloody Basin Road just north of Phoenix in early April when the bluebonnets started blooming there. Now, two months later, we’re being treated to the same springtime bloom, but at a much higher elevation. It’s one of the things that I have come to really appreciate about this lifestyle.

When we first arrived here, there was still a good snowcap on the top of the San Francisco Peaks, visible from our camp, thanks in part to a freaky late winter cold front that moved through the area just before we arrived. As the weather has warmed up, the snow has begun to melt and now it is almost gone from the western slopes that face us (although as we found out yesterday, there’s still quite a bit left on the cooler eastern side). Last week we decided to visit the Arizona Snowbowl and ride the chairlift to the top of the mountain.

Boondocking on Forest Road 151 in a designated dispersed campsite

The Arizona Snowbowl is a ski resort just north of Flagstaff and just a few miles from where we’re camped. After ski season ends, they remain open for summer activities including chairlift rides, disc golf, and lots of kid-friendly activities, and they also have a restaurant and bar at the base of the lift.

We had decided to purchase our lift tickets online on their website to save a few bucks, but when I went to order them the morning of our visit, I found out that you couldn’t order online on the same day you were going there. So it looked like we would have to pay full price, which would be $24 for me and $19 for Andy (senior rate). But when we got to the parking lot and were walking up to the lodge, we struck up a conversation with a couple who were returning to their car.

I asked them if they had been to the top of the lift already, because I wanted to find out if it was cold enough up there that we would need to carry our jackets. They replied that they had decided not to take the ride because they were afraid that the high altitude (it’s about 11,500′ at the top) would cause them to get dizzy or sick. We found out that they were from Ohio, and since Andy lived there for a short time, they compared notes about various locations. Finally as we were getting ready to part ways, the lady asked me if we had already bought our lift tickets, and I told her we had not. She then handed me a folded sheet of paper, and said “Here, you can have this, we won’t be able to use it.” I took a quick glance at it, and thought at first it was a coupon that would save us a few dollars, and I thanked her for her generosity.

But when I looked at it more closely, it was a Groupon, good for two tickets on the chairlift, plus two free premium drinks at the lodge bar! They had paid $39 for the Groupon, and they gave it to us freely–such generous people!

The Groupon that was gifted to us by a wonderful couple from Ohio

We used the Groupon to get our tickets and then we enjoyed a beautiful ride to the top of the ski lift. The ride takes about 30 minutes each way. On the way up we were treated to views of the mountainside that still had a good bit of snow remaining on it, especially in the areas under the pine trees. The sun was pretty warm and the the wind was at our backs, so the jackets that we wore actually became a little too warm.

Riding the chairlift at Arizona Snowbowl to the top of the mountain

We reached the top and took some time to admire the view. From the area at the top of the lift, you can primarily look toward the north and the west. We could see all the way to the Grand Canyon and beyond, and we could also see several plumes of smoke where the Forest Service is conducting some controlled burns to maintain the health of the forest. Fortunately for us, the smoke was traveling away from our location so we had a clear view.

Enjoying the views from the top of the chairlift at Arizona Snowbowl

When it was time to make the return trip on the chairlift, we were extremely happy that we had brought our jackets. This time, we were facing into the cool breeze that was blowing over the snow, and it was a pretty chilly trip to the bottom of the lift, even with our jackets. But we were also facing the expansive view of northern and western Arizona that very few people get to see outside of an airplane window.

Our view on our way down on the Arizona Snowbowl chairlift

Once we reached the bottom of the lift, we stopped by the lodge to redeem our drink tickets, and then we sat on the patio, soaking up the sunshine while enjoying our Bloody Mary’s. It was a perfect way to spend a day!

Here’s a short little video of our ride on the chairlift. If you’re ever in the Flagstaff area in the summertime, we highly recommend that you visit the Snowbowl and take the chairlift ride!

Yesterday it looked like it was going to be another sunny and cool day, so we decided to visit the Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. I knew very little about it and didn’t do any real research–we just decided to drive over and check it out since it was only about 45 minutes away.

It turned out to be an amazing experience, and we learned a lot at the same time. Sunset Crater Volcano is relatively young, as it last erupted sometime between 1040 and 1100 A.D. We found out that there are actually about 600 old volcanoes in the area, including what are now the San Francisco Peaks. The unique thing about Sunset Crater is that, because of how recently it erupted, there were people living in the area whose lives were disrupted, and who left behind artifacts of their daily lives as well as oral stories and traditions of the eruption event. The Hopi, Zuni and Navajo tribes all have these stories as part of their connection to the land where they lived and worked.

Another unique thing about Sunset Crater is that the landscape around it still bears the scars from the eruption, even though natural erosion from wind and water continuously and gradually erase signs of the damage. We walked down two different trails through the lava flows, which looked like something from another planet. The ground was covered in rough, black rock that was both porous and hard at the same time. Huge boulders were stacked on top of each other, and there were places where the hot magma had squeezed to the surface almost like toothpaste from a tube, and had cooled so quickly that it was frozen in place.

Hiking through one of the lava flows at Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument

One really cool thing was getting to see how the plant life has taken hold in the lava fields after 1000 years. The cinders and lava actually made the area better for growing things because they allow moisture to penetrate, but then prevent it from evaporating. I always thought that volcanic soil was good for growing things because of nutrients or minerals in the soil, but it’s actually this ability to hold moisture that makes the difference here in the high desert.

Hiking the Lava Flow Trail gives a good view of the landscape around the crater

The landscape around the crater is actually very fragile. Back in 1928, filmmakers wanted to create a landslide at the crater for their movie. Local activists were afraid that the volcano would be irreparably damaged, so they petitioned the government for protection. In 1930, President Hoover established the area as a National Monument, part of the National Park Service. The volcano itself has since been closed for hiking, after years of foot and vehicle traffic left their marks. Hiking is now only allowed on the official trails that are maintained by the park. NOTE: Other volcanoes and cinder fields in the area are open to hiking and even off-road vehicle use, and the difference in the landscape is readily apparent. I’m thankful for the oversight of the National Park Service in preserving areas like this for future generations to enjoy.

One unexpected benefit of our little daytrip to Sunset Crater was that we got a different view of the San Francisco Peaks. We were able to see the eastern slopes and were happy to find that there was still a good bit of snow still on them, even in mid-June.

View of San Francisco Peaks from Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument

Other than our daytrips to the Snowbowl and Sunset Crater, life has been pretty peaceful and quiet here in our camp. We’ve done the usual grocery shopping, some hiking in the forest, cooking and cleaning. We’ve also found a local pizza place that we are totally hooked on now–Fratelli’s Pizza. We go there for their lunch special which is two slices of pizza and a fountain drink for $10. Their pizza is to die for, and they have super-fast wi-fi as well! They have been voted best pizza in Flagstaff every year since 2002 and we can see why!

One slice of pesto and one slice of cheese pizza–delicious!

So, what are our plans? Right now, we are perfectly happy where we are, as long as the weather holds. If it starts getting too warm (or if they run us out of here for staying too long), we’ll probably head to New Mexico State Parks (we still have our yearly pass) or maybe up to higher elevations in Colorado. But right now, we have no specific move date in mind.

It’s hard to believe that we’ve been on the road for almost ten months now. Time is really flying by! Don’t want to jinx anything, but right now all the systems in the rig are performing well, the truck is still in good shape, we’re all healthy (including the cats), finances are fine, and we’re extremely satisfied with our lifestyle. I know it’s not for everyone, and a lot of people probably think we’re strange for choosing to live this way, but just the thought of having to move back into a sticks-and-bricks house in a permanent location gives me anxiety. I know that someday that will likely happen, but right now we’re doing life our way, as nomads, chasing 70°, and it’s what makes us happy!!

Thanks for taking time to read our blog! Feel free to share it with family and friends who might be interested in full-time RV living. If you want to keep up with our adventures, please subscribe. And you can also find us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads if you want to keep up with us between blog posts.

Safe travels!

Q & A: Safety and Security While Hiking and Boondocking

Since all the excitement and drama that I shared with you in our last post, things have settled down quite nicely here in our camp.

We are still hiking regularly in the forest around us. If you haven’t read the previous post, then you don’t know that Andy got lost in the woods and had to be rescued by the sheriff’s department. Based on what we learned from that experience, we are super-careful now about following some basic rules when we go out hiking or geocaching.

Hiking is one of our favorite activities

We make sure that we carry plenty of water with us, that our cellphones are fully charged, and that we carry a backup power supply for the phone. Andy already had a good power pack, but mine would no longer hold a charge for very long, so I ordered a new one from Amazon. We both bought emergency whistles that also contain a compass, thermometer, and magnifying glass. We both carry butane lighters in case we need to start a campfire, and we both have pocketknives.

More importantly, we are careful to communicate with each other about where we’re going and when we plan to get back. When we’re on the trail, we leave markers along the way, especially at places where trails intersect so we know which way to turn on the way back. I often take photographs of road number markers or other landmarks in case I need to provide that information to rescue personnel.

And finally, we do more hiking together rather than separately now. Andy has stepped up his game and has gone on several longer hikes with me to look for geocaches. It definitely feels safer to have someone along with me when on my searches, not to mention that it’s just more fun.

Sometimes you get lucky and catch just the right light – San Francisco peaks from our campsite

Since we’re doing more hiking together now and leaving the rig unattended while we’re gone, that brings up another issue. I received this question from Pete, one of my blog subscribers, and thought it would be a good topic to address in this post:

Pete posted:

Thank you for sharing this part of your travels.
I’m thinking about security… when you park at an “un-official” camping spot without any knowledge of what goes on there how can you feel secure leaving your vehicle or panels there?

Great question, Pete!

First of all, when Pete refers to “un-official” camping spots, I assume he’s referring to the places where we boondock, which in this case means camping for free on public land, without hookups of any kind. In one sense, the sites we use (Bureau of Land Management, National Forest) are “un-official” since you can’t reserve them, there’s no site number, there’s no camp host checking up on you, and there’s no fee to be paid. But in actuality, it is still an “official” camping area–when you enter the area you are greeted by a sign that lists what the regulations are (14-day limit, how far from the main road you can set up camp, whether or not campfires are allowed, etc.). So there is still at least a sense that someone is actually in charge here, and is keeping tabs on what goes on.

Our first line of defense is location, location, location. When we are doing our research to select our next campsite, we use several apps that include reviews from campers who have stayed in that area before. Many times photos are also posted with the reviews. But even if the reviews are good, if we pull into the area and something feels “off”, we won’t stay there. If there’s a lot of trash or debris, if we hear a lot of ATVs or gunfire in the distance, or anything else makes us uncomfortable, we just simply move on.

Boondocking on Forest Road 151 in a designated dispersed campsite

One of the things we like most about boondocking on public lands is the amount of privacy you have. Right now our nearest neighbors are .3 miles away from us–a nice couple named Andy and Christine who are also full-timers in a Class C that’s just a little larger than ours. And that’s an important point–we get to know the people that are camping around us, stopping to chat as we hike by. RVers are known as a tight-knit group that look out for one another. If we see or hear of anything sketchy going on, we let each other know about it.

Statistically, thieves are much more likely to select targets in populated areas where they don’t have to work so hard. We are camped two miles down a dirt road where campers are spread out fairly thinly. Most thieves are not going to go driving down a little dirt road to find something to steal when it would be much easier to go to the mall in Flagstaff and break into someone’s car–lots more opportunity in the urban areas. Yes, occasionally RVs do get broken into, but most of the time those are in RV parks in urban areas, and not boondocking on public land in the middle of the forest or the desert.

That said, we do take sensible precautions. There are times when we both need or want to be away from the rig at the same time, to go sightseeing, hiking or grocery shopping. Here are some of the things we do to mitigate the risk:

  • Solar panels – If we’re still a little unsure about the area and if our batteries have a good charge, we have occasionally disconnected the panels and set them inside the RV while we’re gone. Generally, though, we just lay them flat on the ground rather than leaving them tilted, so that they are less obvious from the road.
  • The rig – Of course we lock the door to the rig, as well as the outside storage bay. Because we have two cats with us, their comfort and health are the most important consideration. Depending on the temperature, we can leave the overhead vents open and run the fans. We also have a couple of windows that we can leave open as they are too small to crawl through. The larger windows are left closed and locked. If it’s too hot to get enough ventilation this way, then we simply won’t leave the rig unattended.
  • The contents – I generally take my laptop with me whenever we leave the rig to go shopping or sightseeing. Otherwise there’s not much of value inside the rig, as we have our wallets with us as well. We have a very small rig, so we can’t carry much anyway. If someone breaks in, they’re going to be sorely disappointed.
  • Time of day – I don’t remember a time when we have ever left the rig unattended after dark when we’re boondocking (it’s different when we’re parked in an RV park). Of course that means we’re a little more limited in things we can do or see, like having a late dinner in town or going to a movie, but we’re old homebodies anyway and we like being at home when the sun goes down.
  • Insurance – Of course, we carry full-timers insurance on our rig and the contents just in case the statistically improbable event occurs, and that gives us enough peace of mind to allow us to enjoy some time away from the rig, taking care of chores or seeing more of the area.

The safety of Maggie and Molly is our first priority when we leave the rig unattended

Our last sticks-and-bricks home was in a subdivision of a small town (population 35,000), and in general it was a “safe” neighborhood. However, we had some next-door neighbors that, due to some changing family circumstances, became more and more of a threat to the neighborhood, with the police appearing frequently at their front door. Even though we had a real house, we still felt threatened and were constantly unsure about leaving the house unattended to go on vacation. But we were pretty much stuck with the problem, since the house was stationary.

But now, living in our RV gives us the freedom to quickly and easily escape any situation that makes us uncomfortable, whether it’s the neighbors, the weather, the dust or just because we’re getting bored. When we moved into the RV, we sold the house and almost everything we owned to make this lifestyle possible. And that process of “letting go” taught us a lot about how relatively unimportant all our “stuff” is.

Yes, there’s always a risk that someone might walk off with our solar panels. They might break into the rig and take the bag of quarters that we keep under the seat for laundry machines. But by taking a few sensible precautions, and by remembering that it’s just “stuff”, we can set our minds at ease enough to go about our business and enjoy our time on the road, boondocking in some of the most beautiful locations on God’s green earth.

Life is too short to worry about the “what ifs” all the time. Get out there and enjoy it while you can!!

Hope this answers your question, Pete, and anyone else who might have wondered the same thing! Do you also have questions about our lifestyle? Be sure to leave a comment and we’ll try to address it in a future post!

Thanks for taking time to read our blog! Feel free to share it with family and friends who might be interested in full-time RV living. If you want to keep up with our adventures, please subscribe. And you can also find us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads if you want to keep up with us between blog posts.

Safe travels!

Hello, 911, We Need a Rescue

We’re just starting our fifth full day in our latest campsite on Forest Road 151, just north of Flagstaff, Arizona. We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect place to park for a couple of weeks. The view of Humphrey’s Peak over the pine trees above our rig is magnificent, although the snow is starting to melt now for the summer. We’ve seen lots of deer and squirrels (we especially like the long-eared Abert’s squirrel), and a huge variety of bird species.

On Friday, our first full day in camp, we took a walk up the road to check out the surroundings and to look for a geocache. We found ourselves in a beautiful stand of aspen trees that are just starting to leaf out. We also encountered a single deer, and then later a herd of 8-9 crossing the road ahead of us.

Beautiful stand of aspen trees on Forest Road 151

We found the geocache in the ruins of an old house where only the fireplace remained. The cache had been placed there originally in 2010 and was last logged as found in October of 2018. The setting was in a clearing in the aspen trees, and the ground was covered in yellow dandelion flowers, so it was a beautiful place to search.

The area where I found geocache #36 off Forest Road 151

Saturday was a day to do chores and run errands. We started out at the Supermat Laundromat, which wasn’t as crowded as I feared it might be on a weekend morning. We usually refer to Yelp for recommendations on laundry facilities when we get to a new town This one was highly recommended–and we agree. We were in and out in just over 90 minutes to do three large loads.

Next, we headed out to lunch at Cornish Pasty Co., based on a recommendation from some vegan RVers that we follow on YouTube. Note that it’s “pasty”, not “pastry”. A pasty is a folded pastry case that holds a savory filling, usually meat and vegetables. If you’re from the South, it looks like a fancy fried pie, but it’s baked. And they have a whole list of vegan options. We selected the Vegan Cubano pasty, made with seasoned jackfruit, vegan ham and cheese, spices and a dill pickle. We also got an order of their baked fries. The entire meal was both filling and delicious–in fact, I couldn’t finish mine, but Andy took care of it for me.

The Vegan Cubano pasty at the Cornish Pasty Co.

After lunch, we hit Walmart for our weekly grocery haul, and then headed back to the rig. We were both so full from lunch that we didn’t even eat dinner.

On Sunday, I decided to do some hiking on the forest road that starts right across from our campsite, FR 9005L. I passed some really nice vacant campsites along the way that looked inviting, but the road is a little too rough to drive Lizzy down, at least for my comfort level. When I came to the intersection with FR 9216Q, I turned right to explore some more. I came through some beautiful Ponderosa pine and aspen forest. In some places a lot of the aspens had either fallen or had been taken down by the loggers. I found one old pine that was striking with it’s twisted pattern and burn marks. The colors were so vibrant in the sunlight that it was impossible to walk by without taking a photo or two.

Twisted, burned tree trunk on FR 9216Q

The road eventually became a narrow path which led up a hill, and when I got to the top I found a wide open meadow that afforded an almost unobstructed view of the San Francisco Peaks. I could even make out the ski lifts on the slopes.

Awesome view of the peaks from my hike on FR 9216Q

After soaking in the view for a few minutes, I turned around and headed back to the rig. On the way back down the hill, my right ankle twisted slightly on an uneven rock and I fell to my left knee, scraping it up in the process. It was just a little scrape, nothing serious. But when I was almost back to camp, I suddenly realized that I no longer had my sunglasses, which I believe were perched on top of my baseball cap when I fell. I was pretty sure that they must have flown off my head at that point, so I decided that I would do the same hike the next day to look for them.

And that my friends, is where the story of this blog really starts to get interesting.

Read on.

Yesterday morning, as usual, I got up about 5:30 AM when the cats decided it was time to be fed. I had my breakfast and coffee, checked email, and read for a little bit. When Andy got up at his usual time of about 8:00 AM, I made up the bed and got dressed. I told him I was going to go back and look for my sunglasses and asked him if he wanted to go with me. He’s not usually very keen about hiking in the morning, and told me he still needed to eat breakfast and go through his morning routine. I told him I could wait for him, but since he wasn’t really interested in going, I decided to go ahead and leave.

Before I left, as usual, I told him exactly where I was going, even showing him a photo of the road marker for the turn to FR 9216Q. I packed up my cellphone, some toilet paper, my ID, and a bottle of water, grabbed my trekking pole, and headed out, telling him I’d be back in about an hour. When I left, he was still eating breakfast.

I completed my hike as planned, although I didn’t find my sunglasses. I stayed on the trail except for a couple of times when I ventured off for maybe 30 yards to look for them in the the same places I had stopped on the previous day, but I was never out of sight of the trail. I also make it a habit to leave “bread crumbs” along the way–rock cairns, arrows formed from sticks or stones, etc. to guide me on my return hike–and these were all still in place from the previous day’s hike.

On the trail to look for my sunglasses, while enjoying the beauty of the forest

When I got back to camp about an hour after leaving, I found the RV locked and Andy gone. I had not carried my set of RV keys with me (why take a chance on losing them?), so I was stuck outside until he got back. I figured he had just gone for a short walk up the road, so I decided to check in via text:

Me: Where are you?

Andy: On my way back!! I went way up the road. Thought I would meet you. Guess not. I’ll be awhile. 45min or so.

Me: Thanks for locking me out. 🙂

Andy: Thought I’d meet you. Sorry!

So I decided to just hang out on in a lawn chair on our front porch, watch a little Hulu and work on my tan until he got back.

Hanging outside the locked RV, wondering when Andy was going to show up

But he never showed up so I texted again:

Me: It’s been an hour. Are you lost?

Andy: I believe so. Can’t find a map these little roads. Right now I’m at 9216G & 9217N.

Me: Sh**. Stay put.

Andy: K

I did a quick Google search to see if I could locate a map with those road numbers, but the only map I could find didn’t show roads that small on the map. So I grabbed my pack and my trekking pole and started out down the road. Along the way, I texted and then called him, giving him instructions on how to use Google Maps to drop a pin with his location, and then text it to me. Evidently he didn’t have good cell coverage where he was, because it took awhile for his texts to show up on my phone with the coordinates.

Once I received his text, I clicked on the link and his location (supposedly) popped up on my phone with directions, showing it would be about a 19-minute hike to his location. I let him know I was on the way, and he let me know that his cell phone was about out of juice so he would need to turn it off for awhile.

I started hiking as quickly as I could, following the directions on Google Maps, but soon all it said was “Re-routing”. I stayed on the forest road, and when the map said to turn onto a different road, I left my usual stick-arrows on the ground to guide me back out. I hiked the entire distance to the coordinates he had given me, but he wasn’t there. I yelled “Hello!” several times, but did not get a response.

By that time, my own phone was losing battery power, and I switched to Low Power Mode. I knew I had to make a decision before I lost power altogether–keep looking, or call for help?

I decided to call for help.

Forest Road 9216Q becomes a small dirt-bike trail, where I slipped and skinned my knee

I called the Coconino National Forest office in Flagstaff and told them what was going on. I gave them the same information that Andy had given me regarding the forest road intersection where he was located. They asked for a physical description and his phone number, which I provided. After all that, they said they were transferring me to the Flagstaff Rangers office.

Of course, when they transferred me, I had to give all the same information over again, plus a little more. They assured me that this happens all the time, and that since the weather was so good, everything would be fine. And then he told me that he was turning this over to the Coconino County sheriff’s department since they were the ones that actually did the search and rescues. He said they would call me back shortly, and I let him know that my phone was almost out of juice.

Just about two minutes later, I received a call from a dispatcher at the sheriff’s office, and for the third time, I went through all the same information. She was very nice and helpful, and said that they were getting ready to send someone out, and that a deputy would meet me at our campsite. I told her I was still on my way back to camp and would be there in about 10-15 minutes.

A few minutes later, she called me back and asked if I had heard from Andy. I told her I had not, but that his phone was probably off because he was about out of battery power. She said that they needed him to call 911, because that’s how they would pinpoint his location. They had tried to leave him a voice message, but his voice mail was full (doh!!). I told her that I would try to text him again, which I did.

Me: Sheriff’s dept has been called. Stay put.

Me: My phone is about out of juice.

Me: R u there?

Andy: I’m in low power mode now. I’m building a fire ring just in case. Don’t you get lost too.

Me: Sheriff said you need to dial 911 so they can locate you.

Me: I’m back at the rig, climbed in the window. Stay put they’re on their way.

Andy: I have not moved.

Me: Call 911!

Andy: That will be the end of my power.

Me: I told them that and they said you need to do it!

Andy: I called, they are on the way. I hope!

Andy: Turning off my phone.

Me: Hang tight, love you! ❤

Andy: <thumbs up>

So, yeah, by then I had made it back to the rig and it was after noon. There was one window slightly open, but I was afraid that it would not provide enough ventilation for the cats as the afternoon temperatures rose. Also, I really needed to charge my cellphone so I could stay in touch with the authorities.

So I decided to crawl in the window. I was able to push it further open from the outside, but the window is so high off the ground that I needed something to stand on. I first tried standing on our little folding table which I had set in the seat of one of our folding chairs. The table broke, not surprisingly.

So next, I decided to check our outside storage compartment (a.k.a. the “basement”) which fortunately was not locked.  I found the folding table that Andy planned to use for some of his jewelry work. Of course it was buried under a lot of other stuff which I had to unload, but I eventually got the table out and was able to stand on it to climb through the window over the dinette table (glad there was no one around to witness that little scene!). The cats were totally freaked out by my not-so-graceful entrance, but they were fine as the temperature inside was still in the mid-70s.

Once inside, I opened some more windows to get the ventilation going, put my phone on the charger, and then settled in to wait. I got one more call from a deputy letting them know they were on their way, so there was nothing more I could do at that point.

Finally, after about 30 minutes, I saw a sheriff’s department SUV pull in to our campsite, and I walked out to meet him. As the deputy stepped out of the vehicle, I said “I’m the lady with the missing husband.”

He said “Not anymore, you’re not”, with a grin on his face, and pointed with his thumb to the back seat.

He walked around the vehicle and unlocked the back door, and Andy climbed out with a bottle of water in his hand. His first, and hopefully last, experience of being locked in the “cage” of a law enforcement vehicle. Of course, that’s the one time that I don’t have my iPhone in my hand to take a photo–Drat!! He was fine, just a little embarrassed. The deputy was very nice, gave him a short lecture on hiking safely, and then shook our hands and left.

By then we were both starving, so over lunch we compared notes on the experience. For whatever reason, he had decided to go for a walk and meet me on my way back, since he knew the road I was taking. However, somehow we missed each other along the way (maybe one of the times I stepped off the trail to look for my glasses?), and he wound up going way beyond where I had hiked out to, thinking he would eventually meet me. When he didn’t, he turned around to come back, but on the return trip he got disoriented and missed a turn somewhere, winding up who knows where.

We have some new ground rules now.

  • Neither of us leaves the campsite without letting the other know where we’re going.
  • Neither of us goes hiking without a bottle of water, a fully-charged phone, and the keys to the vehicles. Those are the basics, but we’ll add other things to that list as well, such as a lighter (Andy carries one already), a pocketknife, snacks, and toilet paper (for me).
  • If we go hiking alone and for whatever reason, deviate from the planned route, we will text or call the other to let them know.
  • If we’re both away from the rig, the last one to leave makes sure that there is proper ventilation for the kitties.
  • When we go hiking, we pay close attention to every twist and turn of the trail, leaving markers along the way for the return.
  • And this from the deputy–as soon as you know you’re lost, call 911 so they can pinpoint your location.

So, everything turned out well in the end. We both got to see a lot of deer while we were out in the forest, and we both learned some valuable lessons from the experience. After all, something like this can happen to anyone. On the previous day when I fell and skinned my knee, it could have been a more serious injury, and in that case, all these ground rules would apply to help make sure that such a situation ends well.

And we both got plenty of exercise yesterday! We’re supposed to get a little bit of rain today, so I think we’ll both just stay here in camp, read a good book, watch a little Hulu or YouTube, work a Sudoku puzzle or two, and count our blessings!

Thanks for taking time to read our blog! Feel free to share it with family and friends who might be interested in full-time RV living. If you want to keep up with our adventures, please subscribe. And you can also find us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads if you want to keep up with us between blog posts.

Safe travels!

 

Monthly Expense Report – May 2019 – Full-time RV Living

It’s time once again for our monthly expense report where we share the costs associated with our full-time RV life. We live in a 24′ Thor Chateau 22E Class C RV with our two cats, Maggie and Molly. We do not have a sticks-and-bricks home base, but travel wherever the weather takes us as we chase 70°.

First, a reminder of the caveats related to our expenses. Every RVer is different–different rig, different diet, different interests–so our expenses are unique to us. Also, I’m not going to share every single personal expense that we incur each month, but only the ones that are directly related to our RV life in some way.

We’ve just completed nine full months on the road. In this post, I’ll be sharing the most recent three months’ expenses as well as our average-to-date for comparison, since line items can change drastically from month to month.

We started the month of May parked in a free dispersed camping spot in the Coconino National Forest on Forest Road 237 (also known as Pumphouse Wash) off Highway 89A southwest of Flagstaff, Arizona. We had planned to be there for two weeks, but at the end of the first week, the weather forecast began showing heavy rain and cold weather moving in, so we decided to leave the woods (and the mud) for a few days. We moved to Williams, Arizona to the Grand Canyon Railway RV Park where we enjoyed full hook-ups as well as access to showers and laundry facilities for a week. This park is part of the Passport America program of which we are members, so we were able to stay there for half-price. At the end of the week, we went back to boondocking, moving to another National Forest free campsite on Forest Road 320 off Highway 64, south of Tusayan, Arizona. After seventeen nights in that location (yeah, we really liked it!), we moved back toward Flagstaff to our current free boondocking site in the Coconino National Forest on Forest Road 151 (also known as Hart Prairie Road), off Highway 180 northwest of Flagstaff.

All set up and ready to enjoy our new home for the next few weeks

We spent a lot of time this month in areas that are heavily dedicated to tourism. The town of Williams is located on Historic Route 66, Tusayan is the gateway to the Grand Canyon National Park, and we also spent a day in Sedona. We spent a lot more on eating out this month, due not only to the higher prices of restaurant meals in these tourist areas, but also because we ate out more often. The weather in May was cold and wet on many days, and we would get cabin fever and head to the restaurants just to get out of the rig. Oh, well, at least our grocery bill was down!

Here are our expenses for the past three months:

Camping fees + Electricity

March: $68 – No out-of-pocket camping fees for the LTVA, the BLM site on Vulture Mine Road, or driveway-surfing in Yarnell. This figure is just the prorated cost of our annual passes.

April: $168 – We boondocked for free on Bloody Basin Road (BLM land), as well as our current location in the National Forest. We paid $126 ($9/night for 14 nights) at Hilltop Campground, and the remainder is the prorated cost of our annual passes to New Mexico state parks and the BLM LTVAs (expired April 15).

May: $207 – We boondocked for free for 24 of the 31 nights. The seven nights we spent in the Grand Canyon Railway RV Park in Williams cost us $27/night which was a 50% discount on their normal rates with our Passport America membership, for a total of $189. The remainder is the prorated cost of our annual pass to New Mexico state parks (expires October 31).

Nine month average: $182

Our campsite for the week while we wait for the nasty weather to blow through

DUMPING FEEs

March: $56 – Dumped three times @$12/visit at the Chevron station by the LTVA, and then twice @$10/visit in Wickenburg while on BLM land on Vulture Mine Road.

April: $50 – Dumped once in Wickenburg ($10) on April 1 on our way to Bloody Basin Road, then twice while we were boondocked there. We had to dump at the local RV parks, which charged $20. While we were camped at Hilltop Campground, we dumped at Affinity RV Service in Prescott Valley where they offer free dumps and water.

May: $42 – We didn’t have to pay to dump while we had full hookups in Williams. While staying on FR 320, we dumped three times at an RV park in Tusayan for $14 per visit. Technically, we could have driven into the Grand Canyon National Park and dumped at their campground for free, but we still would have had to visit the Tusayan RV park to buy propane, and Andy decided it was easier to just get everything done at one location.

Nine month average: $31

Fuel for the RV

March: $141 – Filled up the rig twice. The first fill-up was in Yuma when we left the LTVA. It was the first time we had filled the tank since December 27, so almost all that fuel was used by the generator over three months’ time. The total generator time in that period was 56 hours. The second fill-up was later that same day, after the drive from Yuma to Wickenburg. It took us 23.4 gallons to drive 173 miles, averaging 7.4 MPG.

April: $141 – We moved three times, and filled up the rig each time we moved. We drove a total of 331 miles and used the generator a total of 20.7 hours. We bought 48 gallons of gas, and averaged approximately 8.5 MPG, net of generator use. Our average gas price in April was $2.94/gallon–it’s definitely going up.

May: $111 – We moved three times, but only filled up the rig twice. We drove a total of 239 miles and used the generator 22.2 hours. We bought 34 gallons of gas and averaged approximately 9.6 MPG, net of generator use. Our average gas price in May was $3.22/gallon–another effect of being in a high-tourism area.

Nine month average: $150

Spring has sprung at Pumphouse Wash

Fuel for the Truck

March: $92 (36 gal, 18.9 MPG)

April: $130 (45 gal, 18.2 MPG)

May: $115 (37 gal, 19.6 MPG)

Nine month average: $132

PROPANE

March: $56 (17.4 gallons) – The weather continued to warm up in March. We topped off the propane four times. The first two were at the Chevron by the LTVA at $3.49/gal, and the last two were in Wickenburg at $1.99/gal. That’s a great example of the difference in fuel prices and taxes between California and Arizona.

April: $43 (17.6 gallons) – Although our propane use was just slightly higher, our cost was lower due to buying it in Arizona instead of California. The highest we paid was $3.09, the lowest was $1.90.

May: $76 (15.9 gallons) – Most of our propane purchases in May were at the RV park in Tusayan, where the cost was $4.85/gallon + tax = $5.28/gallon. They were the only propane supplier within reasonable driving distance, and they knew it and admitted it. We had some very cold weather, including sleet and snow, so we ran the furnace a little more than we usually do. Fortunately we had one week with full hookups in Williams when we were able to use the electric space heater, which offset at least a portion of the propane cost for the month.

Nine month average: $41

Snow-covered truck and rig

groceries

March: $539 – There isn’t a Walmart store in Wickenburg, so we did our grocery shopping at Safeway and Basha’s (once). Grocery prices in those stores are at least 25% higher than they are at Walmart where we usually shop, and the quality was not any better on the produce.

April: $575 – In addition to our usual grocery shopping, we stocked up on some bulk goods at Sprouts and Sam’s Club.

May: $464 – We were a little surprised at this number being down so much, as grocery prices in Williams and Flagstaff are a little higher than we’ve been paying. But when we saw what we spent on dining out (see below), the grocery figure made sense. Many of our restaurant meals involved doggie bags that provided us with an extra meal at home. And usually, when we ate lunch at a restaurant, we were too full to eat dinner later.

Nine month average: $504

NOTE: We primarily eat a whole-foods, plant-based diet so we buy a lot of fresh produce and whole grains, along with some wine/beer. We buy very little processed foods in boxes and cans, although we do buy canned beans and tomatoes.

dining out

March: $243 – While we were in Yuma we treated ourselves to the breakfast buffet at the nearby Quechan Casino every Friday morning ($5.95 plus tax). We also tried out several Mexican and Italian places in Yuma, Wickenburg and Yarnell. We did not eat at a single chain or fast-food restaurant. Eat local!!

April: $201 – We drove up to Yarnell last week and met our friends John and Helen at Gilligan’s Pizza for lunch–so yummy! We also tried out a Thai restaurant in Prescott that was pretty good. We also visited Starbucks for a treat, and after our purchases on our loyalty cards, the balance on both our cards was below our threshold for automatic replenishment; so $50 of this month’s dining expenditure was just cash being reloaded on our Starbucks cards for future visits.

May: $464 – We spent way more than usual on eating out in May. We had a nice lunch in Sedona ($76); ate three times at the Grand Canyon Brewing Company which was conveniently located right across the street from the RV park where we stayed in Williams (twice we only had drinks and appetizer, total for three visits was $103);  ice cream and coffee at Twisters on Route 66 in Williams ($19); dinner at El Corral Mexican Restaurant on Route 66 in Williams ($41); two visits to We Cook Pizza in Tusayan ($71); brunch at Toasted Owl Cafe in Flagstaff ($49); lunch at the Bright Angel Lodge Harvey House Cafe in the Grand Canyon National Park ($37); breakfast at McDonald’s on the way to the Canyon ($26 – highway robbery!); and a few other miscellaneous charges including reloading Andy’s Starbucks card for $25. When we dine out, we pretty much order what we want and don’t worry about the prices, especially if it’s an unusual place with high-quality food. But hopefully we can get back on track in June and get this line item back in budget. 🙂

Nine month average: $244

Pizza and Peroni in Tusayan – nice break from cabin fever

NOTE: These numbers include coffee and snacks that we buy when we’re really there just to use the wi-fi. 🙂

household / furnishings

March: $193 – Includes $99 annual subscription for 1TB of space on Dropbox, which we use for cloud storage of our files, including backups of important data.

April: $546 – Includes $496 for new mattress, and $11 to dispose of old one.

May: $149 – Includes $76 for a new Blu-ray player to replace our old one that quit working. We don’t play DVDs very often, but while we were camped on FR 320 we had very little cellular service and could not do our usual streaming of Hulu and YouTube, so we fell back on our DVD collection. When the old Blu-ray player wouldn’t play the discs without freezing and skipping, we replaced it with a newer, “smarter” version from Walmart.

Nine month average: $153

These numbers include things like toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning supplies, small household items for the kitchen, etc.

petcare

March: $46 – Replaced the litter box with a large storage tote, dumped all the old litter and started with fresh. We’ve switched to a more expensive litter that is dust-free and odor-free, and it seems to have helped Molly’s allergy problem.

April: $70 – Stocked up on the newer dust-free litter as well as their treats.

May: $24 – Just food and litter.

Nine month average: $62

These numbers include cat food, litter, treats and the occasional toy for our two kitties, Maggie and Molly. Will also include vet visits when needed.

Maggie and Molly soaking up some sunshine after days of clouds and rain

verizon cellphone / internet

March: $276

April: $276

May: $276

Nine month average: $268

These numbers include a prorated charge for the purchase of our iPhones when we bought them in the fall of 2017. We both have the iPhone 8+ which we use for internet access as well as hotspot wi-fi for the laptop and the Roku. We are now on the AboveUnlimited data plan so we can go longer without getting throttled. Once the phones are paid off this fall, the monthly charge should drop by $66/month unless the plan rates go up.

mail forwarding

March: $10 – Paid the nearby Chevron station $3 to accept packages for us so Andy could order some maintenance items from Amazon. Had mail forwarded to us once in Wickenburg.

April: $14 – Had mail forwarded to us twice, once in Prescott and once in Flagstaff.

May: $30 – Renewed our mail scanning service for another three months. This service allows us to see the front of the envelope that is sent to our mailing address in Livingston, Texas, and then we can choose to have it shredded or added to our next mail forwarding. Because of this scanning, we were able to see that there was nothing urgent in our mail this month, so we did not have anything forwarded to us in May. It will instead be held until our next forwarding request, probably in early June.

Nine month average: $19

Laundry

March: $25 – Did the regular laundry once in Yuma. In Wickenburg we had to wash all the bedding once when one of the kitties had a little accident on the bed.

April: $15 – Did laundry once in Prescott Valley.

May: $15 – Did laundry once at the RV park where we stayed in Williams. I also had to wash the top quilt on our bed because Maggie puked on it (she’s not sick, I think she just gagged on a hair in her throat). Oh, well, at least they’ve stopped peeing on it!! 🙂

Nine month average: $19

attractions / entertainment

March: $103 – We spent $30 to visit the old Vulture Mine site (overpriced, IMO). I also purchased a new hiking pack with water bottle for desert hiking.

April: $51 – Just the monthly subscriptions listed below.

May: $58 – Just the monthly subscriptions listed below, plus a bag of assorted puzzle books that I picked up at the Goodwill store in Sedona. NOTE: We visited the Grand Canyon National Park several times for free with Andy’s “America the Beautiful” senior lifetime pass for which he paid $10, right before they increased the price to $80. But even at $80, it’s still a tremendous bargain if you visit any of the national parks or monuments, especially since it’s a lifetime pass. Can’t wait until I turn 62 so I can get mine!! 🙂

Nine month average: $82

These numbers include our subscriptions to Netflix, Audible, Spotify, and Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited book plan, as well as entrance fees to places we visit.

Hanging out at the overlook at the Powell Memorial at the Grand Canyon

memberships

March: $136 – Annual membership fee for AAA Roadside assistance. We have the premium plan that also covers the RV.

April: $0

May: $127 – Annual renewal fee for Amazon Prime. Currently questioning whether or not we should drop this next year.

Nine month average: $46

Equipment for RV

March: $35 – Caulk removal tool, tubing for use in filling the fresh water tank, a turkey baster to use when filling the house batteries with distilled water, and a utility knife and blades.

April: $7 – Blind spot mirrors, drain pan and funnel for generator oil change.

May: $0 – Hallelujah!!

Nine month average: $329 (Includes over $2K in solar equipment purchased in November 2018.)

RV Maintenance & REpairs

March: $24 – Replaced the air admittance valve under the bathroom sink to remove odors coming from the black tank ($8). Also purchased some shop towels and mineral spirits for caulking work (that still hasn’t been done).

April: $63 – Bought PVC pipe to replace old dryer vent hose mounted under the rig to hold the “stinky slinky” (sewer drain hose), after the old dryer vent hose basically disintegrated. Also purchased air filters and oil to perform an oil change on the Onan generator.

May: $35 – Bought two replacement lights (the amber teardrop-shaped clearance lights) for the overhead cab area to try to prevent water leakage into the rig.

Nine month average: $89

Handy Andy doing some rig maintenance while the sun shines

truck maintenance & repairs

March: $70 – Oil change, filters replaced, got the truck washed

April: $0

May: $0

Nine month average: $9

NOTE: We drive a 2004 Toyota Tacoma PreRunner pickup with a camper shell on the back as our chase vehicle (not towed). It has just over 107K miles on it, and it’s super-dependable.

Vehicle insurance

We have insurance through Progressive and get a multi-vehicle discount. Right now we’re paying $57/mo for the RV. In March, the monthly cost for the truck increased from $40/mo to $49/mo.

VEhicle License and registration

Of course we paid the annual license and registration up front in September but for expense tracking purposes, I’m prorating it across the year. It’s $22/mo for the RV and $17/mo for the truck.

Summary

So those are our RV living expenses for the last three months:

March Total: $2,257

April Total: $2,495

May Total: $2,337

Nine month average: $2,498

The lesson we learned this month is that we have to be more conscious of the costs associated with staying near popular tourist destinations. While we’re not going to deny ourselves the occasional splurge, we can definitely do a better job of managing our spending in restaurants and even on our groceries. We do enjoy delicious plant-based food, but our goal for June is to try to be more mindful of what our indulgences cost us.

While May was unusually cold and wet, the forecast for June is looking more normal in terms of temperatures, and so we’ve already started moving to higher elevations. We’re currently at about 8,100′ just southwest of Flagstaff, and the high temperatures for the next two weeks are forecasted to remain in the 60’s and 70’s. We plan to stay in the Flagstaff area as long as we can (but we’ll have to move to a new campsite when our 14 days are up here), and we’re hoping that we can make it through the entire month of June in this area.

Beautiful view of Humphrey’s Peak from our front yard

We’ll continue to closely monitor our expenses and will report them here on a monthly basis. So if you’re interested, be sure to subscribe to this blog so you get all our updates. You can also find us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads to stay up with us between blog posts.

A Day at the Grand Canyon, Move to Higher Elevation Near Flagstaff

The last couple of days have been busy and fun, which was a nice change after being limited in our activities due to the unsettled weather.

We had been parked in the same spot on Forest Road 320 south of Tusayan for over two weeks, waiting for a day of perfect weather to spend inside Grand Canyon National Park. We finally got that perfect day on Wednesday. Andy even woke up at daybreak (and that’s almost unheard of!) so we could get an early start and beat the crowds.

We decided to stop for a quick breakfast at McDonald’s in Tusayan instead of making breakfast in the rig, in order to save a little time. Andy had the pancakes and I had the oatmeal, and we each had two hashbrowns plus coffee. The total bill came to $26.23. When did McDonald’s get so pricey?? Yeah, I know, these are tourist prices.

We arrived at the entrance to the park about 8:00 AM, at which time they only had two of the five gates open, but there was only one car in front of us. That was a good sign! We decided to park in Lot A, which is centrally located next to the Park Headquarters. At that time, probably 70-80% of the parking spaces were empty.

From the parking lot, we walked the short half-mile trail that leads directly to the Rim Trail. It’s always such a rush to walk out of the trees and suddenly be confronted with this unimaginably beautiful vista of stone and sky–layer upon layer of multi-colored rock, with a ribbon of green vegetation at the bottom and a clear blue sky with a few fluffy clouds above. We’ve been to this spot many times, and it never fails to leave us speechless.

View of the canyon from the Rim Trail near Park Headquarters

There was a time in my younger days when I would go to the very edge, sit down and dangle my legs while taking in the view. Now that I’m older and wiser, I stay at least a foot back from the edge–yeah, I know that’s not much better, but it’s the only way to really come close to grasping the magnitude of what you’re seeing.

Andy looks so tiny at the top of this chasm

We walked westward along the Rim Trail, taking in the view along the way. The Park has created an exhibit along the trail, called the “Trail of Time“, to help visitors get a grasp of the time scales involved in the formation of the different layers of rock in the canyon walls. There are brass markers embedded in the walkway about 1 meter apart, each representing 1 million years in geological time. At the point in “time” that each new layer appeared, they have a big sample chunk of that rock on display that you are encouraged to touch and examine. Of course, with Andy being a rock hound, we enjoyed that interactive display immensely.

When we arrived at the Village, we went into the El Tovar Hotel to take a little break from the walking. The inside of this historic building looks like an old hunting lodge, with taxidermied animal heads hanging all over the walls. We rested our feet in the lobby, used the facilities and then headed out to catch the shuttle bus to Hermit’s Rest.

Inside the El Tovar hotel in Grand Canyon Village

Before we got on the shuttle bus, however, we decided to hike a short ways down Bright Angel Trail, along with the hordes of other visitors. Keeping in mind that “what goes down must hike back up”, we didn’t descend too far, but we did get far enough to see the canyon from a different angle.

Checking out the scenery on Bright Angel Trail

View from our vantage point. You can see more of the trail below us.

The Red Line of the shuttle bus service connects the Village to Hermit’s Rest, with about nine stops along the way. It’s free, and it’s pretty much the only way besides hiking or biking to see the west end of the canyon, since that route is closed to vehicle traffic. You can hop off and on the bus at any of the stops, spending as much time as you like at each location before moving on.

Hanging out at the overlook at the Powell Memorial

The view from Hopi Point, with a glimpse of the Colorado River far below

We made it to Hermit’s Rest a little after 11:30 AM, where it was cool, overcast and windy. We visited the snack bar and got a cup of what was listed as “hot apple cider” (pretty sure it was an instant mix with boiling water poured in). The sandwiches and snacks were outrageously overpriced, so we passed on those. It took awhile to finish the “cider” since it was so hot, but we enjoyed a nice conversation with a woman from Iowa while we waited for it to cool.

Enjoying a hot drink at Hermit’s Rest

We arrived back at the Village around 12:30 and decided to have lunch at the Bright Angel Lodge. They had some nice vegan and vegetarian options on their menu. Andy had the veggie quesadilla and fries. I had the “protein bowl” which was a mix of quinoa, grains, shredded carrots and parsnips, blackened chickpeas, avocado and brussels sprouts, with a delicious lemon vinaigrette dressing. We finished the meal with their house-made bread pudding that was scrumptious!

The protein bowl at Bright Angel Lodge’s restaurant

After we finished lunch we caught the Blue Line shuttle that took us back to our parking lot after winding through the Village and giving us a view of some of the areas we hadn’t seen before, such as the train depot and the mule corral. It was almost 3:00 by then, and although we had planned to drive to the east end of the canyon, we decided it was too late in the day to do it justice, so we’ll save that adventure for another day.

It was a beautiful day, and a fitting finale to our stay on Forest Road 320. It’s been one of our favorite places to camp, and one that we plan to return to in the future.

The clouds at sunset over Red Butte

Yesterday (Thursday) it was time to leave this camp after 17 nights, and move on to higher altitudes as warmer temperatures are forecasted for the next couple of weeks. We wanted to get back to the North Flagstaff area, so we did some research on FreeCampsites.net and Campendium.com to identify some potential camping spots. We found two that sounded good–always nice to have a backup.

So we got everything packed up and stowed away, and pulled out of camp around 10:00 AM. Andy drove the rig back into Tusayan to dump the tanks and fill up on propane and fresh water, and then we headed toward Flagstaff on Highway 180. We ran into some rain along the way, and came through one area that had just had a hailstorm that had left hailstones in drifts on the road.

Our first potential campsite was just off Snowbowl Road, the road that goes from Hwy 180 up to the ski area. Because we weren’t sure what condition the road to the campsites would be in, we decided that Andy would park the rig at the base of the road in an empty parking lot and I would take the truck on a scouting expedition. It was a good call, because the forest road to the campsites was extremely rocky, rutted and wet. Additionally, the campsites were pretty much just small clearings tucked among the pine trees, and would have been hard to get the rig into, much less have any sun for our solar panels. I drove back and reported to Andy that we needed to keep looking, so I then drove to our second option.

The second choice that we had found on the apps was on a forest road accessed from Shultz Pass Road just inside the Flagstaff city limits. I found Shultz Pass Road, but when I got to the forest road, it was closed due to logging activity in the area. So that was a bust.

Fortunately we have learned the secret of Forest Roads–the entrances to the roads are well marked on the highway, and many of them are very well maintained, and they have dispersed camping spots cleared out all along the way. We had passed a few Forest Roads (a.k.a. “fire roads”) on our approach to Flagstaff, so I decided to head back north to explore some more.

The first Forest Road I came to was FR 151 and it looked to be in great shape in spite of the recent rains that had come through the area in the morning. I started driving down the road which turned into a climb up the mountain, passing several potential camping spots along the way. Finally, about two miles up the hill, I found it–the perfect spot!

Found the perfect camping spot on FR 151, with a view of Humphrey’s Peak

In fact, it was so perfect that I didn’t want to leave it and risk someone else taking it. So I texted a photo and the GPS coordinates to Andy for his approval, and he signed off. He then drove the rig to the nearest gas station to fill the tank (it was a short drive but we want plenty of fuel to run the generator if needed), and he finally arrived at our new campsite around 1:45 PM.

We got everything set up and had a late lunch of leftover pizza, and then just relaxed for the rest of the day. There were a few very short light rain showers, typical in the mountains where we are, at about 8100′ elevation.

All set up and ready to enjoy our new home for the next few weeks

I got up on the roof of the RV and recorded a short video showing a 360° view of our surroundings. I posted it to YouTube, so you can catch it here:

We’re looking forward to spending more time here in Flagstaff. It’s funny, we always wanted to live in Northern Arizona, in the Flagstaff or Prescott area, but we knew it would probably be prohibitively expensive. And now, here we are, living in those very areas, but only at the time of year when the weather is the absolute best. How cool is that?? Today we’ll do some exploring of the area on foot (there are some geocaches nearby!!), and tomorrow we will most likely need to do some grocery shopping and other errands.

Speaking of tomorrow, it’s hard to believe that May is coming to an end and June starts tomorrow. And since it’s the end of the month, it’s time for our latest expense report on our full-timing life. Be sure to watch for that report in our next blog post if you’re interested in what it costs us to live on the road.

Thanks for taking time to read our blog! Feel free to share it with family and friends who might be interested in full-time RV living. If you want to keep up with our adventures, please subscribe. And you can also find us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads if you want to keep up with us between blog posts.

Safe travels!

Weekend Sunshine, Old Lady Climbs Red Butte, More Snow (Really??)

We’re still camped on Forest Road 320 about 20 miles south of the entrance to the South Rim of Grand Canyon. After all the rainy and snowy weather we had last week, we finally caught a break. This past Saturday and Sunday were absolutely beautiful! The skies were clear and blue, and while it was a little cool and windy, it was still so nice to be able to spend some time outdoors for a change.

Finally able to catch a glimpse of the snow-cap on Humprey’s Peak

We were finally able to get a clear view of the San Francisco Peaks without them having a blanket of clouds over the top. We could clearly see the additional snowfall that the peaks received over the past week–the view was really stunning! We hope to get an even closer view of the peaks next week when we move closer to Flagstaff (spoiler alert!).

I was able to talk Andy into taking a walk with me along the Forest Road to see the retention pond that I had found earlier. It was an enjoyable walk in the sunshine to where the pond rests at the base of Red Butte. I was hoping for a good photograph of the reflection of the butte in the water, but the surface of the pond was so choppy due to the wind that the photo idea didn’t pan out. It was still a lovely scene!

Andy checks out the retention pond at the base of Red Butte

That evening the winds died down so we were able to once again have a campfire after dinner. There is an abundance of dry, dead wood lying around to use as fuel. It burns quickly, and it’s mostly cedar so it has a wonderful smell as it burns. We had the marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate bars for s’mores, but we got lazy and just toasted the marshmallows instead. That’s the best part anyway! 🙂

Andy gets the fire going for some toasted marshmallows

On Sunday morning I woke up feeling especially energetic for some reason, even though I had not slept well the night before. I decided it was time to tackle the Red Butte Trail.

Trailhead for Red Butte Trail

The trail is an out-and-back climb up the west slope of Red Butte, a distance of about 2.4 miles round trip with an elevation gain of 890 feet. The average time to complete the hike is 1.5-2 hours, and it’s rated as “Moderate” with steep switchbacks during the last 0.5 miles.

The prize for the climb, other than the amazing views, is reaching the Forest Service fire lookout station at the top of the butte. If you remember from one of my previous posts, I met Bruce, the lookout ranger, when he had hiked down from the station to deliver his pet goats to a lady from Williams who was adopting them. I was hoping to see Bruce at the top of the butte so I could find out more about how he handles life as a hermit in a station with no access other than by foot or helicopter.

I started the hike about 9:00 AM, climbing steadily along a well-marked path that was mostly open but which also passed plenty of trees that offered occasional shade. By about 30 minutes into the hike, I was really starting to feel the burn in my quads, but surprisingly I wasn’t as short of breath as I thought I might be. Fortunately we’ve been camping in this higher altitude long enough that I’ve become acclimated to the thinner air, so I wasn’t too bothered by oxygen deficiency. But I definitely felt challenged as I climbed higher and higher, and began to stop more often to enjoy the views, take a few photos and rest for a moment.

About halfway up, gorgeous view of the San Francisco Peaks from Red Butte

Just before 10:00 AM, I finished the last switchback and emerged at the very top of Red Butte–SUCCESS!! The trail continued across the level ground past some trees to the fire lookout station and the associated structures. As I approached the station, I shouted “Hello” several times to announce my presence, but it soon became apparent that no one was home.

Red Butte fire lookout station

Fortunately, the metal deck on the second floor of the station was unlocked, so I was able to climb the stairs and get a look at the view that Bruce gets when he’s on duty. The station is on the north side of the butte, so he has a direct view of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. From the southeast corner, he can also see those beautiful San Francisco Peaks. And he can see for miles and miles in every direction, especially on a clear day such as it was on that day.

View of the top of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon from the lookout station

The second floor of the station has big glass windows facing in every direction, and although I didn’t get to talk to the ranger, I was able to snap a photo of the inside of the station:

Inside the fire lookout station (photo taken through the window)

I spent almost a half hour at the top of the butte, just enjoying the scenery while re-energizing myself with a Clif Bar and some water. I also took a little time to look for a geocache that is supposedly hidden in the area, but according to the navigation on my app, it was located on a rocky ledge, and I just wasn’t comfortable getting that close to the edge when I was up there by myself. Oh, well, you win some, you lose some.

View of the San Francisco Peaks from the lookout station deck

It took me about 35 minutes to make the descent from the top of the butte to the trailhead. Going down was definitely easier on my lungs, but it took a toll on my left knee and my right foot, which have always bothered me on tougher hikes. Regardless of the discomfort, I had an immense sense of accomplishment and satisfaction after completing this hike–it’s the toughest one I’ve attempted in some time, and at the age of 60, it’s good to know that I can still complete challenges like this to see sights that most people will never experience. Besides, that’s what ibuprofen is for, right??

So that was Sunday. A beautiful, clear day in the outdoors.

Monday morning — different story.

As usual, I woke up early in the morning while Andy slept late. It was partly cloudy as the sun rose, but in the west I could see some dark clouds building. I knew the forecast called for some off-and-on light rain for the day, so I wasn’t surprised.

I fed the cats, and settled in at the dinette to enjoy my coffee and my breakfast while Andy snored away. The only sound was the occasional hum of the furnace fan as the heater kicked on.

All of a sudden, it sounded like a dump truck was depositing a load of gravel on our roof. Andy shot straight up in bed, the cats scattered, and I nearly spit out my coffee. A sudden hailstorm had started without warning, and when you live in an RV with plastic vent covers on your roof, it can scare the bejesus out of you. Fortunately the hailstones weren’t too large, but there were a lot of them, and we held our breath that they wouldn’t get any larger before the hail turned to rain.

That was Round 1.

Round 2 of the weird weather started about 30 minutes later after Andy had gone back to sleep. I started hearing little tapping noises on the roof again, and noticed that the rain was now mixed with sleet. What the heck?? It wasn’t supposed to be that cold! But sure enough, I could see it starting to accumulate under the trees and bushes.

“Well, that’s interesting!”, I thought.

Another half hour or so went by, and by then Andy had gotten up and was in the bathroom when I noticed another change.

Round 3 – Snow! Big, fluffy, wet flakes of snow were falling, and it was getting heavier by the minute. With the winds blowing about 25 MPH, it was quite impressive. And even though the temperatures were slightly above freezing, the snow had no problem sticking to all the vegetation and anything elevated off the ground. Before long we had another Winter Wonderland, the second one in a week.

The second snowfall in a week–this one totally unexpected

And just in case you’re reading this at some time in the future, please note the date that this happened: May 27, 2019, on Memorial Day, the unofficial start of summer. That’s just wrong!

Anyway, just like the previous snowfall, this one didn’t last long. It was completely melted away an hour after it had appeared, and all that was left was mud. By the middle of the afternoon, the clouds broke up enough to let the sun shine through a little bit to start drying things up. Today (Tuesday) it’s going to be cloudy for most of the day, though, so we still have a little drying to do.

So right now, we’re sitting in Starbucks in Tusayan, enjoying some free wi-fi with our coffee (the cellular service at our campsite is poor, so I come here to take care of our online life, doing the bookkeeping, and downloading books to our Kindles). Earlier we drove into the National Park to refill our drinking water jugs. We get free entrance to the Park with Andy’s senior pass, and once inside, the drinking water is free. We enjoyed lunch in Tusayan at a local pizza place we’ve visited before. In fact, they gave us the “local’s discount” of 20% since we were return customers–score!!

Pizza and Peroni in Tusayan – nice break from cabin fever

We’re winding down our stay in this area now. At this point we’re just waiting for a day with great weather so we can do a full day inside the Grand Canyon National Park, and after that we’ll be moving on, most likely to the Flagstaff area. The weather forecast is calling for temperatures to start moving into the more normal, warmer range over the next week, so we’re starting to think a little further into the future when temps start rising into the 80° and 90° range in this area. Our two most likely options are:

  • Go to New Mexico for awhile, using our annual pass to stay in state parks where we can get electrical hookups and run our air conditioner, or
  • Head to Colorado to higher elevations where the temperatures are cooler even in the summertime, assuming that we don’t run into problems with altitude sickness

We’ll probably do some combination of those two things, or maybe something totally different, who knows??

Anyway, this has been a lot of fun staying in this area, and we’ll definitely return here at some point. The boondocking options are plentiful, and being close to the National Park offers a lot of things to see and do, even if it means that we have to drive further to shop for groceries or do laundry (which is really starting to pile up now!!). 🙂

Red Butte. Yeah. I climbed to the top of that!!

Thanks for taking time to read our blog! Feel free to share it with family and friends who might be interested in full-time RV living. If you want to keep up with our adventures, please subscribe. And you can also find us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads if you want to keep up with us between blog posts.

Safe travels!