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!

Day Trip to Flagstaff, Bizarre Weather, Why Stay Here?

It’s been eight days since our last update here on the blog. It’s not that there hasn’t been anything exciting to talk about, but we have such poor cellular reception here that it’s hard to get an internet connection for most of the day. For some reason it’s better on the weekend, so I’m able to get an update posted today.

The last time I posted (8 days ago) we were sitting in McDonald’s in Tusayan trying to get some decent internet so we could check the forecast. We knew that this past week was going to have some cooler and wetter weather, but at that time the forecast didn’t look so intimidating that we would consider moving. We just knew that there was going to be a good chance of rain on Thursday and that the temperatures were going to be about 20° lower than normal.

Unfortunately, it must be really hard to accurately predict the weather on the Coconino Plateau where we are camped. It seems to have its own little micro-climate that can change on a dime.

Last Saturday (a week ago) it was a beautiful day. Andy drove the RV into Tusayan to dump the tanks and get refills on propane and fresh water. The only source of propane around here is an RV Park in Tusayan where they charge $4.85/gallon + tax, or $5.282/gallon. As they told Andy, they are the only game in town so they can charge what they want. They also charge $14 to dump the tanks and take on fresh water which is pretty much in the ballpark for what we’ve paid in other places.

Hanging out in camp, guarding the solar panels, while Andy’s gone to dump the tanks

On Sunday, it started to get cloudy and cooler. I did some hiking along the road where we’re camped and came across a retention pond that serves as a watering hole for the local wildlife. The mud and dirt around the pond was filled with the tracks of animals that visit the pond, but I wasn’t fortunate enough to spot any. It was very tempting to hang out for awhile behind a tree to see if anything showed up, but it was cloudy and the wind was cold, so I didn’t stick around long.

Local retention pond with reflection of Red Butte on a cloudy, windy day

On Monday, we started to get a little taste of how the weather was going to change this week. When I got up on Monday morning, I found that we had had some sleet during the night, with a nice coating on the truck. Later that day, we had several more sleet storms as dark, heavy clouds rolled in from the southwest. We stayed in the RV most of the day since it was so wet and cold.

Accumulation of sleet on the ground around our camp

On Tuesday we had a little bit of sunshine in the morning, so I was able to get a good hike. But by the afternoon it was starting to cloud up again, so we decided to drive into Tusayan to Starbucks just to alleviate some of the cabin fever we were getting. While there, we had good internet access so we checked the forecast again and saw that they were predicting a little snow for Thursday. They said the heaviest snow would be above 6,500′ (we’re camped at 6,200′), but there were no watches or warnings issued.

We weren’t too worried about it since it sounded like we might just get a few flurries. Our main concern was that the ground around our campsite might become too wet and muddy to move the vehicles. Since it was time to re-supply our fresh produce anyway, and I really needed a haircut, we decided to make the 75-minute drive to Flagstaff on Wednesday to run some errands and have lunch.

So on Wednesday morning we left camp and headed south on Highway 64 toward Williams. Along the way, we found that some areas had already received some snow, and it was still on the ground. It was cold and rainy as we drove, with the occasional sleet hitting the windshield, but we made it to Flagstaff with no problem.

Our first stop was lunch at a little place called the Toasted Owl (my niece, Bailey, would LOVE this place!). We found it on the Happy Cow app which lists local restaurants that serve vegan and vegetarian dishes. This place only serves breakfast and lunch, and it gets great reviews, so we decided to check it out. Andy had their veggie burger and fries, followed by a huge cinnamon roll. I had their Spanish omelet, substituting the pork chorizo with their plant-based chorizo, served with a side of roasted potatoes and sourdough toast. I also treated myself to their $3 mimosa. The food was outstanding, as was the service.

More of the Toasted Owl–the checkout stand and the decor for sale

The decor was delightfully eclectic. Their motto is “Everything Is For Sale”, including all the decorative items, lighting fixtures and furniture. The ceiling is covered with quirky lighting fixtures, all the tables and chairs are different, and there are owls everywhere, including on the t-shirts and caps they sell.

Just a glimpse of the eclectic decor in the Toasted Owl in Flagstaff

After lunch we drove to Great Clips where I got a long-overdue haircut. From there, we went to Walmart and stocked up on groceries, especially produce. We also bought a new Blu-ray player to replace the one we brought with us from our old house. The television in the RV has a built-in DVD player, but it doesn’t play Blu-ray discs, so that’s why we had brought along our old player. We had never used it in the RV until this past week when the weather was so bad, but when we tried to play three different discs, the picture would freeze and skip badly. So we bit the bullet and bought a new player–they’re so much smaller now and the technology is much better. It’s nice to be able to have another entertainment option when it’s too messy to go outside.

After Walmart, we went to Sprouts to stock up on some bulk items that we use–nutritional yeast, raw cashews, pistachios and almonds. I love Sprouts!!

So Wednesday night, we had some leftover soup for dinner, watched a movie, and settled in for the evening, thinking that there might be a little snow the next morning. On Thursday when I woke up about 5:30 and looked out the window, this is what I saw:

Our first experience camping in the snow

Now, you have to understand that I was born and raised a Southern girl, so to this day, anytime I see snow, I get excited. So of course I was outside playing in it, taking photos, while Andy snored away as usual inside the warm RV.

Not All Who Wander Are Lost. Life Is Good!

It was still coming down heavily three hours later as it continued to accumulate. I took several video clips with my iPhone and used my Splice app to put them together into a short video for our YouTube channel:

But as they say here in Arizona, if you don’t like the weather, just wait a few hours and it will change. By about 10:00 AM the snow had stopped falling and the clouds were starting to lift enough that we could finally see Red Butte from our camp.

Red Butte is finally visible after the snow stopped falling and the clouds began to lift

By noon, most of the snow was melted away, leaving plenty of mud puddles. And by mid-afternoon, the sun was out and there was no evidence of any snow at all. Red Butte was totally clear, the sky was blue, the flowers were in bloom and it was almost as if we had imagined the entire thing, except for the photo and video evidence I had recorded that morning.

Just a few hours after being covered in snow, everything is green again

Our biggest concern with all the precipitation and snow melt was that we would be stuck in the mud when it came time to dump the tanks. Fortunately, the sun has done its job and dried things out nicely after the snow melted, so Andy was able to take the RV back to Tusayan yesterday (Friday) to dump the tanks and fill up on propane. In the six days since the last propane fill-up we used 5.8 gallons, about twice our average weekly amount, mostly because we were running the furnace much more than usual to keep the rig warm. Normally we only run it a little bit in the morning, but the temperatures here at this site have been the coldest we’ve ever camped in, and we’ve needed to use the furnace even in the daytime once or twice.

The last two days have been beautiful, with plenty of sunshine and not as much wind, although it’s starting to pick up some this afternoon (Saturday). The current forecast calls for some more rain and cooler temperatures on Monday, and then a warming trend.

So all this discussion about the weather raises some questions. We have several guiding principles when it comes to our travel style. One is “Chase 70°” and another is “Don’t get caught in the snow”. So it sounds like we’re not doing a very good job right now at following our own rules.

But here’s the thing–we really like where we’re camping right now, and we know that this bizarre weather pattern that came through Arizona last week is only temporary. We still want to spend at least a day in the Grand Canyon National Park, and we want to pick a day when the weather is really nice. We could have left the area, and in fact we talked about moving to Kingman for a few days and then coming back here. But in the end, we decided that we were comfortable staying here given what we knew about the weather forecast. The rig is warm and dry, we were well-stocked with supplies and entertainment options, and honestly, I freaking love it when it snows!!

Desert blooms in our campsite

So we plan to stay in this area for probably another week or so as the temperatures warm up and the rain moves out. Technically there is a 14-day limit on camping here, but we have seen a total of two other campers since we’ve been here, and they only stayed one night each. There are multiple camping spots with no one on them, so we’re not too worried about anyone asking us to move on. We could have gone into the National Park today, but since it’s Memorial Day weekend the park will be crowded, and we’d rather wait until next week when there are fewer people and less traffic to contend with.

So, that’s life in Northern Arizona this week. It’s funny, we follow a lot of full-time RVers on YouTube and Instagram, and several of them are camping in the Flagstaff area right now. In fact, we ran into one of them, Bex Cat-herder, in Walmart on Wednesday, and just missed another couple, VeganRV, with whom we compared notes via Instagram comments on vegan options in Flagstaff. They all had the same reaction as I did to the snow–surprise, wonder, excitement. And just like us, they have the option to stay in the area or move to someplace different, and that’s the reason we live this lifestyle right now. It’s about having options and freedom, about seeing things differently and seeing different things. It’s about facing challenges and discomfort and finding ways to overcome them. It’s about peeing in the woods so you don’t have to dump the tanks as often. 🙂

My outdoor “facility” comes complete with a toilet paper roll and a trash bag hanger.

Right now, I have no idea where we’ll be going after we leave here. It’s too soon to say. Another one of our favorite full-time RVers on YouTube, Mike of “Living Free”, has a motto that we like–“My plan is to not have a plan”.

Sounds like a great idea to us!

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!

 

Boondocking Again, Close Encounter With Goats, Grand Canyon Quickie

Last Monday we left the comforts of civilization when our seven days were up at the Grand Canyon Railway RV Park in Williams. We unplugged the electrical cord, the water faucet, the sewer hose and the cable TV cord and pulled out of the park about 10:30 AM. While Andy drove Lizzy (the RV) over to the Love’s station to top off the propane tank, I took our empty drinking water jugs to the nearby Safeway to get them refilled. After that, we were on the road.

Topping off the propane at Love’s in Williams before heading out for more boondocking

Our new campsite is one that we found when we were scouting last week. We are located on Forest Road 320 off Highway 64, about 20 miles south of the entrance to the Grand Canyon. It’s one of several pull-offs on the gravel road, and it’s totally off-grid with no hook-ups, and not even a trash dumpster. The space is large enough to accommodate several RVs or campers, but in the five days that we’ve been there we’ve only had one other camper join us at this pull-out, and he was on a motorcycle.

Our campsite on Forest Road 320 near Tusayan AZ

The area is a beautiful place to enjoy the outdoors. The most prominent feature is nearby Red Butte, which is especially striking in the late afternoon when the setting sun lights up the red rocks at the top of the mountain. There is also a great view of the snow-capped San Francisco Peaks from the road, although we can’t see them directly from our campsite.

The San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff are visible from FR 320

Red Butte is a popular hiking destination. You can drive to the trailhead, and from there it’s about a 1.5 mile hike to the top where there is a fire lookout station. The trailhead is also the best spot in the area to get good Verizon cellular service. The worst thing about our camping site is the really poor Verizon signal–first thing in the morning I might get two bars of LTE, but by 8:00 AM it drops to one bar, and then it goes to one bar of 1x, essentially no connection. But at the trailhead, I can get two or three bars of LTE consistently.

Red Butte lives up to its name when the sun goes down

On Wednesday I drove up to the trailhead with my laptop because I needed to work on the bookkeeping and get some bills paid. When I pulled into the trailhead turnaround, I saw a guy standing there with two goats. I rolled down the window and introduced myself, and found out that his name is Bruce, and he is the guy that works at the fire lookout station at the top of the butte. The goats, Josephine and her billy kid (unnamed) showed up at his station about a year ago. He posted their pictures on social media trying to find the owner, but was not successful, so the goats have been with him ever since. However, he says he knows it’s just a matter of time before “regulations” catch up with him, so he decided to find a new home for them.

Josephine and her billy kid, who have been living at the fire lookout station with Bruce

Bruce located a woman in Williams who raises goats and also does animal rescues. When I met him on Wednesday, he had just hiked down the mountain with the goats to meet the woman who was coming to pick them up. You could tell that he was so attached to them, but thankfully he was able to find them a good home. As I was driving back to the campsite, I met the woman driving up the mountain in her truck. Later as we were in our campsite, I heard a goat bleating, and then I saw her truck go by with the two goats in large crates in the back. Josephine was saying goodbye to Bruce, and it was a little sad, but I’m sure they’ll enjoy their new surroundings with lots of other goats.

As a side note, Bruce told me he had been working at the lookout station for over twenty years, but that his job was gradually being phased out with the implementation of drones. He’s an artist (landscape painter), so the gig at the top of the mountain has been perfect for him. His wife is a singer and she’s on the road a lot. He said he gets about ten visitors a week in the spring and fall, hikers who brave the 1.5-mile trail to the station. He said he really enjoys getting visitors!

The weather has been very nice this week. We built a fire pit and gathered some of the plentiful deadwood in the area, so we were able to have a good campfire on Tuesday night. We even made s’mores!

We had a beautiful campfire and made s’mores

Besides the poor cellular reception, the only other drawback to this beautiful camping spot is the distance we are from groceries and services. We knew that there wouldn’t be many options for groceries and that they would be expensive, so we stocked up with extra food before we left Williams. But we still need to dump the tanks at least every seven days. The two closest options for doing that are an RV park in Tusayan, or the dump station at Mather Campground inside the National Park (about five miles further).

We did some research online and found that the dump station at the RV park in Tusayan does allow non-guests to pay to dump, but that they do not allow non-guests to refill their water tanks. However, they do sell propane. We also found out that the dump station in the National Park is free, and we could also refill the water tank AND get free drinking water. So we decided we would be using the facilities inside the park, especially since we can enter the park for free with Andy’s senior pass.

Yesterday we decided to drive into the National Park in the pickup truck to make sure Andy could find the dump station–when you’re driving an RV it helps to know the lay of the land ahead of time. We found it easily enough, and were immediately grossed out to find a guy with his RV parked there, dumping his black tank without the proper attachment to the ground receptacle, so the sewage was just flowing out onto the ground around the hole. Disgusting!! What is wrong with people?? Thankfully he had enough sense to hose down the area and wash everything down the sewer hole before he left.

We took the time to visit the Marketplace in the park and found that they have a lot more grocery options (even vegan groceries) than are available at the small market at Tusayan. Of course, they’re not cheap–a large avocado was $1.89, but those were over $2 each in Tusayan. I bought a new water bottle since my old one had broken that morning, and we bought a loaf of bread and two avocados (yes, we’re addicted to avocados).

After that, we dropped by the Park Headquarters and talked to a ranger about the camping options in the park. As we expected, they would charge us as two vehicles instead of one, simply because we are not physically towing the truck. If they were connected when we drove in the park, they would only charge us for one–this is a policy that really needs to be addressed. Anyway, she was nice about it and offered us some options for reducing the cost, mainly by getting an $80 annual pass for me until I turn 62 and can get my own lifetime $80 senior pass.

Next we decided to take a short hike from the Headquarters building to the rim of the canyon. We’ve been there many times before–in fact, we tent-camped in Mather Campground back in the day–but it never fails to leave me awestruck. We took a few photos and met some nice people from Pennsylvania, heard lots of different languages, and tried not to freak out when all the schoolkids were running around near the rim.

Beautiful day to be at the rim of the Grand Canyon

We didn’t stay too long, as we do plan to return next week and spend a longer day seeing more of the canyon. On the drive back to camp, we stopped in Tusayan for lunch at a local pizza place–had a veggie pizza and a Peroni. We brought half the pizza home with us for another lunch this weekend.

As we were leaving the pizza place, we decided to stop by the local RV park to find out what they charge for their propane and dump station. When Andy talked to them he found out that they actually DO allow non-guests to fill up their water tanks for $7, and that the dump fee is $7. They sell propane for $4.80/gallon (as she said, they’re the only game in town!!). Since they do provide all the services we need, Andy will probably just dump the tanks there instead of driving into the Park as we originally planned, even though it will cost us $14 extra.

Yesterday we had a cold front move through and it was extremely windy all day. Today (Friday) it’s about 15 degrees cooler, and it’s supposed to get even cooler next week, dipping below freezing each night. We actually considered leaving our camp and moving over to Kingman for a few days, but then decided we could deal with it, as long as we have propane in the tanks for the furnace. We’ll just have to be careful to make sure the water lines don’t freeze overnight.

In the meantime, I’m really enjoying going for regular hikes each morning. The surroundings are beautiful with lots of flowers still blooming. We’ve had a large jackrabbit come through our camp several times, but we haven’t had any more sightings of elk around our camp since we were there on our original scouting expedition, even though there are elk tracks everywhere.

Some of the beautiful blooms in the Kaibab National Forest right now

So our immediate plans are to stay where we are for the full fourteen days we are allowed, and then we’ll move, most likely to a different free boondocking spot closer to the Grand Canyon entrance at Tusayan. In order to get one of the first-come, first-serve campsites inside the Park at Desert View Campground, we would need to be there by 8:00 AM, and one of us does not do mornings very well. But as usual, plans are subject to change, especially when it comes to the weather. We’ll also need to make a re-supply trip to Safeway in Williams when our fresh produce runs out, but otherwise we are pretty much committed to living in this area for the time being.

On a side note, this blog hit a milestone this week with our 100th subscriber! Thanks to everyone who is interested enough to follow along with our adventures by subscribing!

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!

Forest Boondocking, Moving to Williams, Watching the Weather

In our last regular blog post, we had just arrived at our boondocking spot on Forest Road 237 in the Coconino National Forest just southwest of Flagstaff. The day we arrived (Monday, April 29) was rainy and cool, and we even had hail on our first night there. The next day was overcast but didn’t rain, and after that the sun came out and dried out the area pretty well for the rest of the week.

Arriving at our campsite on a rainy day

Our camp was in a beautiful setting of ponderosa pine and Kaibab limestone rock outcroppings. It was located on the rim of a good-sized canyon with a creek flowing at the bottom. I did several hikes through the forest along the creek (couldn’t talk Andy into going with me), and made my way down to the creek in several different locations.

Pumphouse Wash is a beautiful stream flowing through Kaibab limestone cliffs

My hikes weren’t very long, but I did a lot of climbing on the rocks, especially when I was searching for one particular geocache that I never did locate.

I saw several caves in the cliffs but wasn’t brave enough to explore them

On Thursday we took one of my favorite drives in the world, from our campsite down Oak Creek Canyon on Highway 89A to Sedona. The lower we went in elevation, the greener the vegetation became until it was so lush with spring growth that everything had an emerald glow. The contrast between the green of the trees, the red rocks towering above, and the blue sky was just as beautiful as I remembered.

We’ve visited Sedona as a couple many, many times since we married in 1991, but Andy, having been born and raised in Phoenix, remembers when Sedona was just a small crossroads with a few stores. I can totally understand why so many people want to visit or live there, but the unrelenting increase in traffic and tourists is gradually over-powering and hiding the natural beauty of the area. (And yes, I totally “get” that I’m a part of the problem whenever I visit there.)

Iconic view of Sedona from the airport overlook

So many of the places where we used to spend time hiking or just sitting on a rock enjoying the peace and solitude are now fenced off and regulated, and many require payment of a fee to visit or to park. The airport overlook next to the Sky Ranch Lodge where we always stayed when we visited Sedona now has a $3 parking fee. And when we tried to pull in at Slide Rock State Park simply to visit the market and buy some fresh apple cider, the entry fee was $20 just to drive through the gate, so we declined and left without our cider.

Walking around uptown Sedona on the hunt for the perfect t-shirt

We still love Sedona–we have so many good memories of our time spent there. But we much prefer to get out of the city limits and visit the red rocks or Oak Creek where it’s less congested. We knew about a popular boondocking area on Loy Butte Road about nine miles west of Sedona, so we drove out that way to check it out. It’s a long gravel road that gets pretty bumpy in places, but the further you go, the more beautiful the scenery becomes. Just as we decided we would be hesitant to bring Lizzy that far back on a bumpy road, we came upon a campsite where there were three very large, very nice Class A motorhomes camped together. If they can make it back there, I know we could too!

The rest of our week in camp was pretty quiet. We drove into Flagstaff a couple of times for groceries and supplies. Andy spent a couple of days doing some maintenance on the rig, sealing up some places where water was seeping in. He replaced one of the running lights on top of the cab, just to make sure it wasn’t the source of a leak.

Handy Andy doing some rig maintenance while the sun shines

Our original plan was to stay in that spot for the full 14-day limit, but as the weekend approached the weather forecast became wetter and wetter. We were parked at the lowest part of the campground, and we knew that if we got several days of rain in a row, it was just going to become a mud-pit. And perhaps the biggest discouragement was that there was almost no internet access in that spot–most of the time it was one bar of 3G on Verizon. If we were going to be stuck in the rig for several days of rain, thunderstorms and hail, we wanted to at least have good internet so we could entertain ourselves.

So we decided to cut our stay short in the forest, and head to civilization. We have a Passport American membership that allows us to stay at certain parks for half-price (subject to the usual black-out dates and other restrictions). I checked around and found us an RV park in Williams, Arizona, about 30 miles west of Flagstaff. So on Monday morning we packed up and moved west.

We’re now staying at the Grand Canyon Railway RV Park. With our discount, and after taxes and fees, we’re paying just over $28/day for our full-hookup site which includes electricity, water, sewer, cable TV, and surprisingly fast wi-fi. There’s a laundry room, along with very nice showers (unlimited hot water!!), and we have access to the fitness room at the hotel which is also part of the property. Technically we have access to the pool and hot tub also, but they just happened to be down for repairs this week. Just our luck.

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

We have a love/hate relationship with RV parks. One the one hand, we thoroughly enjoy the amenities. The showers are amazing (yes, we can shower in the rig, but our water pressure is lower, and plus, we have to move the big litter box out of the shower every time we want to use it, so why not use the park’s showers?). I was able to get our laundry done yesterday, and the cost of the machines is much lower than if we went to a typical laundromat. We’re saving money on propane since we can run the hot water heater and refrigerator on the electrical hookup, and we can use our small electric heater instead of the propane furnace to heat the rig. We’re not having to run the generator to power the microwave or convection oven, or to top off our batteries because of the clouds, so we’re saving on gas. Of course there’s much less privacy and a little more noise, although this park has been very quiet so far, except for the thunder, hail and the occasional train that goes by. It’s not nearly as scenic as our spot in the forest, but we’re within walking distance of all the restaurants and shops along Route 66 in Williams, as well as a nearby Safeway grocery store.

Awesome shower facilities at Grand Canyon Railroad RV Park

Since we’ve been here, the nasty weather has delivered as forecast. We’ve had thunderstorms with heavy lightning, along with a couple fairly heavy hailstorms. Fortunately the hailstones were small enough that I don’t think they’ve done any damage, but it’s awfully noisy inside the rig when they’re beating on the roof and especially the plastic vent covers. We’ll have to check those covers carefully for cracks after the rain stops.

Another hail storm, makes me so glad we’re not tent-camping!

On our first evening here, we walked to the nearby Grand Canyon Brewery for a happy hour beverage and some dinner. We started with an order of fried dill pickles, then Andy had the veggie burger and I had the fish and chips. The fries were excellent, but the battered cod was just so-so.

Beer-battered cod and fries at Grand Canyon Brewery

Yesterday there was a break in the weather during the afternoon, so we got out and explored downtown Williams. We started with ice cream and coffee at Twisters 50’s Diner, a super-cute soda fountain/bar/diner/souvenir shop on Route 66. Then we spent another hour or so just walking up and down the street checking out the various shops and restaurant menus. There are a surprising number of veggie options here in town, so we’ll probably take advantage of some of them before we leave.

This town has more Elvis memorabilia than any town we’ve seen since we left Tupelo. There are Elvis statues all over town, along with Elvis fortune-tellers and an animated Elvis sitting behind the wheel of a vintage automobile, waving at passers-by.

Andy and Elvis in the Twisters 50’s Diner

When we booked our stay in this park, we booked for four nights, expecting the weather to clear up by the weekend. However, the most recent forecasts show continued rain and cooler weather, so we contacted the office this morning and extended our stay through Sunday night, so we’ll spend a total of seven nights here (that’s the limit for our Passport America discount). Then we booked three nights (next Monday through Wednesday) at another Passport America park in Golden Valley, near Kingman, where the weather should be drier and warmer. By then, this freaky cold, wet system should be moved out of the area, and we plan to return to the Flagstaff area to spend more time before it warms up for the summer.

But, plans are just invitations for the gods to laugh at us, so they say. But that’s the advantage of having our home on wheels–we can move it when the weather changes, so we don’t have to stay in a place where we are uncomfortable or unhappy. Yes, we have rain and hail here, but we have all the utilities we need, we’re warm and dry, and between rain showers we have plenty of entertainment. And we have high-speed wi-fi, so what could be better? 🙂

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!

New Boondocking Spot Near Flagstaff, Rain, Hail and Mud

Note: We have a less-than-optimal cell signal at our new camp, so I’m not able to upload photos to the blog today.

Yesterday (Monday) was moving day, as we had reached the fourteen-day limit on our stay in the Hilltop Campground in the Prescott National Forest outside of Prescott, Arizona. We were a little sad to leave such a nice place, but it was time to move on.

We pulled out of camp about 9:30 AM. Our first stop was at the Arco station in Prescott to fill up both vehicles with gas. Since the station is located right across from Costco, they match Costco’s price at $2.89/gallon, the lowest in the area. Our next stop was in Prescott Valley at Affinity RV Service, where they sell propane and provide a dump station and potable water at no charge. There were a couple of rigs ahead of us in line, so it took us just over an hour to get finished up, but it was totally worth the time to save $20 on dumping the tanks. Thanks so much, Affinity, for taking care of RVers!!

Finally we were on the road north. We took Highway 169 from Dewey-Humbolt over to I-17, and it was such a beautiful drive through some country we hadn’t seen before. Once we got on I-17 North, we were in familiar territory, making the descent into Verde Valley and climbing back up the mountains toward the red rocks of Sedona.

 

We stopped at the rest stop near the Sedona exit to grab a sandwich for lunch and give the kitties a break. The weather on the drive had been fine until that point, but as we got ready to pull out we could see rain moving in from the south. The rain caught up with us about ten miles south of Flagstaff, and continued for much of the rest of the day.

We exited the freeway on Highway 89A, topped off the gas in the RV, and then took 89A south for seven miles to Forest Road 273, which is just inside the boundary of the Coconino National Forest. FR 273 (also known as Pumphouse Wash) is a dirt and gravel road; and since it was raining, it was just starting to get muddy. About a mile down the road, you come to the first of four loops of designated campsites. Andy pulled the RV over to the side of the road, and I drove on in the pickup to check out all four of the loops to see which might work best for us. We wound up staying in the first loop since there was only one other site occupied, and we didn’t see any need to drive further down the muddy road.

It took us a few tries to choose a site where we could get reasonably level. These are “primitive” sites that only have a fire ring–no other amenities. The sites are dirt, rock and grass. We had to put three leveling blocks under the right side of the rig to get her level. The whole time we were getting her set up, it was raining lightly, and by the time we got through, our boots were covered in mud.

We had a good dinner, and as we were starting to clean up the dishes, the rain started coming down heavily, and then it began to hail. Fortunately, the hail was small and it didn’t last long. Later, we got lots of lightning and more hail as some thunderstorms moved through. If you’ve ever been in a house with a tin roof in a thunderstorm, you might have some idea of what it sounds like inside an RV during a hailstorm. It was LOUD!

Unfortunately, we had some water get into the rig during all the rain. I first noticed it on the floor just inside the bathroom door. Andy got out the flashlight, pulled a panel off the wall under the wardrobe, and determined that it was most likely coming in through the outside vent to the hot water heater. Just another maintenance item to add to the list before the next rainstorm.

The rain finally stopped sometime around midnight. It was overcast and gloomy most of the morning today, but the clouds have been breaking up this afternoon, enough so that we were able to get a good charge on the batteries from our solar panels. It’s been quite chilly today, with temperatures in the 50’s and a good breeze blowing.

This afternoon we drove into Flagstaff to run a few errands–went by the post office to pick up our mail, stopped by the bank to deposit a check that came in the afore-mentioned mail, went to Sam’s Club to stock up on the dried herbs that we use in our salad dressing as well as meds for allergies (mine are getting better but Andy’s starting to have symptoms), and then we stopped by a local park to dispose of our trash.

Now that we have our errands out of the way, we can do some sight-seeing. Of course, we’re going to drive down to Sedona one day, and we also plan to go up to the Snowbowl to play in the snow a little bit. We couldn’t see the top of Humphrey’s Peak today because of the clouds, but we know the snow is up there!!

Today is the last day of April, so tomorrow I’ll be working on our monthly expense report which will be published here on the blog, so stay tuned. And today is also my Mom’s birthday–HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MOM!! We love you!!

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!

Fighting Allergies, Lynx Lake, Back to Yarnell, Generator Maintenance

This is our last full day in the Hilltop Campground in the Prescott National Forest just south of Prescott, Arizona. It’s a really lovely campground ($9/night with the senior pass) and we have enjoyed our stay here, with the exception of my seasonal allergy flare-up. Ever since I first visited Arizona in 1991 when Andy brought me here on our honeymoon, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with springtime and early summer in the high country. I’m not sure if it’s the pines, the cottonwoods, or some other plants, but something indigenous to Arizona gets me every time I visit this area around this time of the year.

Our first week here, I had just a little dry cough, but by last weekend it was getting a lot worse with congestion starting to settle in my chest. I knew better than to try to wait it out, so on Monday I went to the local NextCare Urgent Care clinic in Prescott and got a couple of prescriptions to help control the cough and congestion. According to the staff, they’ve been swamped with people just like me who are fighting allergies this time of year, and we met quite a few of them in the waiting room. After taking the meds all week, I am feeling better but still not 100%.

Nothing like a visit to the urgent care to make your Monday special

It really made me sad because there’s so many beautiful hiking trails around here and I really wanted to explore more, but I just did not have the energy or the breathing capacity to do a lot of hiking and climbing. I did take a couple of short walks around the campground, and discovered a beautiful stream called Lynx Creek at the base of the hill where there is a small dam and waterfall.

Lynx Creek in Prescott National Forest

The creek empties out into nearby Lynx Lake which is a very popular destination for fishing and water sports. We drove over to the lake on Friday just to look around. There’s a small marina and store where you can rent boats and canoes. There are some very nice hiking trails all the way around the lake, although the trails on the east side of the lake are closed to foot traffic in the springtime because it’s breeding season for the bald eagles that nest on that side of the lake. (Also, that’s where the wildfire took place that caused us to be evacuated on our fifth day here.)

Lynx Lake in Prescott National Forest

Yesterday (Saturday) we drove a little over an hour to Yarnell, where we met our friends John and Helen for pizza at Gilligan’s. We took the scenic route along AZ Hwy 89 which is a twisty, winding road through the mountains that requires a driver’s full attention. Fortunately, Andy was driving so I got to look at the scenery along the way. It was absolutely stunning, and worth the white knuckles!

We really enjoyed getting to see John and Helen again (you might remember that we camped on their property about a month ago). After enjoying some tasty pizza, we followed them over to their construction site where they are building their new home among the beautiful Yarnell boulders. The project is moving along nicely with a lot of progress having been made since we were last there.

We’ve made a couple of visits to downtown Prescott while here. We found an ice cream shop that we really like, Frozen Frannies, that we sampled twice. When we went downtown on Friday everything was very crowded due to a big bike race that was taking place this weekend. We still really like Prescott, but it’s definitely out-growing a lot of the small Western-town charm that it used to have, and it’s becoming more and more commercialized. Rather sad in a lot of ways, but even smaller towns like Yarnell are starting to “benefit” from the desire of people to move further and further away from the larger cities. Now, if only we could read the future well enough to know where we should invest in real estate!!

We did get a little bit of rig maintenance done while we’ve been here. Our onboard Onan generator seemed to be running a little rough, so Andy changed the oil and the air filter in it. The generator also has an adjustment knob that can be changed according to the altitude, so he tweaked the setting on that as well since we’re currently at about 5,600′. It does seem to be running a little smoother since the maintenance was done.

The generator gets an oil and air filter change

So here it is, Sunday afternoon, and the campground is quiet again after all the weekenders have already cleared out. Tomorrow it will be our time to move on as we will have hit the 14-day limit.

Where to next?

We’re headed further north and higher up, chasing 70­°. We’ve done our research and have identified four potential boondocking spots in the Flagstaff area, ranking them in order of preference. We’ll head out tomorrow morning toward our first choice, and see what happens. If all goes according to plan, we should be about 1400′-1500′ higher in altitude, with about a -6° temperature differential. Tomorrow is supposed to be a little rainy, which doesn’t make for the best traveling weather, but after Tuesday the weather is supposed to be outstanding.

And supposedly the tree pollen isn’t as bad up there!!!

Beautiful Sunday afternoon in Hilltop Campground, our last day here

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!

Mattress Upgrade, Campground Evacuation Due to Wildfire

Well, our first five days in the Prescott National Forest at the Hilltop Campground have certainly been busy and eventful. After boondocking in the desert for so long with no close neighbors, it’s been a bit of an adjustment getting used to the sounds of people shouting at each other, dogs barking and generators running. But the setting is so pretty, it makes it worthwhile to put up with some minor annoyances. (Yeah, we’re just old and cranky!)

Our little solar farm at our campsite in Hilltop Campground

We arrived here on Monday, and on Tuesday it rained most of the afternoon and evening. I took a short hike on Wednesday morning, but otherwise we didn’t do much. I was just starting to come down with my usual springtime Arizona crud (sore throat and sinus drainage), so I haven’t felt all that great all week. About all I want to do in the afternoons right now is nap.

We met the campground mascot, a ginger tabby that we have named Rusty. He just showed up at our screen door on Wednesday morning, and then decided to climb all over our rig–trying to impress Maggie and Molly, I guess, but they weren’t having anything to do with him. The camp host, Warren, told me that the kitty wandered up to their camp out of the woods about four years ago, and they adopted each other. Rusty is allowed to roam free, so he visits all the campsites and is very friendly. However, I did chase him away one afternoon when he started stalking a baby rabbit in the brush next to our campsite. The poor little rabbit would run from bush to bush with Rusty hot on its heels. I was afraid I would be psychologically scarred for life if I witnessed Rusty catching that bunny rabbit, so I chased him off. Hopefully the little rabbit found its way home.

Rusty trying to convice Maggie to come out and play. She just hissed at him.

On Thursday morning, we received a call letting us know our new custom mattress had arrived at the Fedex facility in Prescott and was ready for pickup. Our first challenge was finding the facility. There is a lot of new construction going on in Prescott and the streets have been added to Google Maps, but many of them are closed to traffic as they really don’t go anywhere right now. But we finally managed to find the facility and load up our new mattress, which was compressed into a tight jellyroll and packed in a cardboard box.

Our new mattress in the cardboard box, sitting on the old mattress.

When we got back to the rig, we first had to get the old mattress outside where we laid it on the picnic table (so glad the weather was nice that day!). The next step was to unpack the new mattress and let it expand. We were told to unpack it directly onto the bed platform, but the space was too tight to maneuver that big jellyroll, so we took it back outside and unpacked it on top of the old mattress. It quickly expanded, and then we wrestled it back into the RV and got it squeezed between the walls and onto the platform.

The new mattress in place. Fits perfectly!

Our old mattress was about 5″ high at its highest point, which was around the edges. The middle of the old mattress had compressed to where it was maybe 3″ thick at most. The new mattress is 8″ thick and is SO comfortable. Since it’s only a full size instead of a queen, we need every inch of real estate available for Andy and myself and two cats. It’s nice to finally be able to sleep closer to the edge of the mattress without rolling back into a “bowl” in the middle.

After getting the new mattress set up, we loaded the old one into the back of the truck and hauled it over to the Prescott waste transfer station, where we paid $11 to dispose of it. I suppose we could have just thrown it into the dumpster here in the campground, but we didn’t want to be THAT kind of camper or RVer.

Saying goodbye to the old mattress at the city dump.

Afterwards, we drove into historic downtown Prescott and had lunch at a Thai restaurant, followed by some ice cream at Frannie’s. We figured out that it’s been over eight years since we’ve been to downtown Prescott–a lot has changed, but it still has a familiar vibe.

So yesterday (Friday), the campground had filled up completely with campers looking forward to a long holiday weekend. There was a large group that took at least three spaces across from us.  They had lots of kids and lots of dogs, including four beagles. It wasn’t exactly peaceful and quiet, but it was okay and everyone seemed to be having a good time and behaving themselves.

I still wasn’t feeling great, so I was taking an afternoon nap when Andy woke me up a little after 4:00 to let me know that the campground was being evacuated. A sheriff’s deputy had stopped by to let us know that there was a wildfire a few miles away at Lynx Lake, so they were evacuating all the campgrounds in the area as a precaution.

Andy packing up the outdoor gear for evacuation.

Fortunately, it doesn’t take us long to get things stowed away for moving. Within a half hour we were packed up and ready to go, and that wasn’t even rushing it. We decided to go to Walmart and stay overnight in their parking lot until things got sorted out and we could decide what to do next.

We found a level spot at Walmart among all the other RVs and campervans that were already parked there. I had posted the news to our Instagram and Facebook accounts, and we had received a kind offer of a place to stay from our friends John and Helen in Yarnell. But around 6:00, just as we were cooking dinner, a fellow RV evacuee stopped by our door to let us know that they were letting people back into the campgrounds.

Our temporary boondocking spot in the Walmart parking lot

We finished dinner, and then I drove the pickup back up to the campground (just over four miles away) to check out the situation. The route up to the campground, Walker Road, had been reopened, but I noticed that they still had a few of the entrances to the Lynx Lake campgrounds blocked off. There was quite a bit of smoke hanging in the air in the valleys along the way. When I reached the entrance to Hilltop Campground where we were staying, the entrance was open.

I drove back to our loop and found it almost totally abandoned. The camp host was still there, and I verified with him that it was all right to return. I called Andy and told him to bring the rig back to the campground. After I spoke to Andy, I met Lloyd who is a traveler from Florida who is camping out here without a tent or a vehicle. (From what we’re told, he flies into Phoenix every summer, takes the shuttle to Prescott and then just camps out in the mountains for the summer.) Nice guy, just a little eccentric I guess. Anyway, he didn’t evacuate, and we had a nice conversation while I waited for Andy to get back to camp.

Almost dark, returning to a nearly-empty campground

By the time he arrived, it was almost dark, so we did a minimal setup, not bothering with the solar panels. Our next door neighbors, Tom and Judy, showed up just after we got things set up. They had driven down to Phoenix for the day to pick up their grandkids for the weekend, so their camper and all their gear was still sitting right where they had left it. They weren’t aware of the evacuation, so they were quite surprised when they came driving back into an almost-empty campground after dark.

So last night it was just us, Tom and Judy, Lloyd, and the camp host/hostess here in the campground. It was so quiet!! But this morning it has been quite busy. Technically, the campground is “full” as all of the spaces have been paid for for the entire weekend. But people come driving through and see the empty spaces and think the space is available. A few more of the evacuees have returned this morning, but most have not. I’m not sure how long the camp host will hold these empty spaces before he starts letting new campers use them.

We had paid for five nights in our spot, which meant that our time was up this morning. But we decided we like it here enough to stay longer, so we went ahead and paid through the 29th (14 days total which is the limit). We are enjoying being camped so close to Prescott with all the shopping available–Costco, Trader Joe’s, Sprouts, just to name a few–as well as all the sightseeing, geocaching and hiking opportunities. Now if I can just shake this crud and get to feeling like doing some of those things!

This morning we went to the local farmers’ market, looking for some local honey. I’ve found that it helps my allergies if I can take a spoonful each day, but it has to be local to the area. Surprisingly, we didn’t find any at the farmers’ market, but wound up getting some at Sprouts instead.

The latest update on the fire is that it is 80% contained. Hopefully the wind doesn’t pick up and drive it this way–we really don’t want to have to evacuate again.

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!

 

Exploring Wickenburg, Leaving Camp Vulture, Moochdocking in Yarnell

All good things must come to an end. Our fourteen days were up on our BLM campsite south of Wickenburg on Vulture Mine Road, which I named Camp Vulture. It was certainly one of our most favorite camping locations, and we were sorry we had to leave, but the weather is starting to warm up and it’s time to head toward more northern latitudes and higher altitudes.

Before we left, we spent part of a day exploring downtown Wickenburg. It’s kind of a quirky town with lots of little touristy shops with an Old West flair. We found a neat display at the old “Jail Tree” where prisoners were actually chained to a tree since the town had not yet been able to afford a proper jail building. The display had an audio feature where the “prisoner” related the history of the Jail Tree. While we were listening to the story, a lady came walking up with a GPS device in her hand and started closely examining the old metal safe under the tree. Yes, she was a geocacher (we’re so obvious!), so we helped her look for the cache, but none of us ever found it.

Old Town Wickenburg’s “Jail Tree” display

We ate lunch at Anita’s Cocina, a neat little place with good service and some of the best salsa we’ve ever had. The rest of the meal was just OK, in my opinion, but that salsa was worth the visit.

Entrance to Anita’s Cocina in Wickenburg AZ

After a little more exploring, we made one more trip to the grocery store. This time we went to Basha’s instead of Safeway, since it was downtown. Basha’s produce section is really lacking compared to Safeway, and we didn’t find the vegan items that we normally find in Walmart and other large grocery stores. In general, our food costs were significantly higher while staying in Wickenburg, which does not have a Walmart store.

So yesterday it was time to move on. We decided to leave after lunch, so I took advantage of another beautiful morning to take one more hike into the hills behind our campsite. I have thoroughly enjoyed being able to hike in the desert on a marked road (sometimes more of a trail). This time I went a little beyond where I normally turn around, and I’m glad I did because I found a big medicine wheel that someone had constructed from the stones in the area. If you’re in the area and looking for a good hike, look for BLM Road #9065/9065A.

Large medicine wheel I found at the end of the hiking trail

After lunch, we packed up and headed north on our way to Yarnell, after stopping in Wickenburg to dump our tanks and fill up with propane and fresh water. The drive to Yarnell was a short one, but it was all uphill. We gained almost 2000′ feet in altitude (that’s probably going to kill our gas mileage!), and when we arrived we could immediately feel the difference in temperature.

Our route from Camp Vulture to Yarnell

If Yarnell sounds familiar to you, you might remember in June/July of 2013 there was a devastating wildfire here where 19 Hotshot firefights lost their lives when they became trapped in the canyon near Yarnell. The property that we’re staying on this weekend is on a street where several houses burned in that fire, including the house that was originally on this site. Our friends, John and Helen, purchased this property after the fire and are building a new home on the site.

Driveway-surfing with friends in Yarnell AZ

The property is in a beautiful location, with huge granite boulders strewn all around. It’s right next to a creek that is currently flowing with the residual moisture from the late winter snowfall several weeks ago. John said that deer and javalina regularly walk through the property, and there are a multitude of birds hanging out in the trees around us. I’m not going to show a lot of pictures of their property to respect their privacy, but they are going to have a beautiful place here when their house is completed!

We’re going to visit with John and Helen at the local donut shop/bakery this morning and then check out the local surroundings. Fair warning, there will be lots of photographs involved on Instagram/Facebook!

It’s hard to believe that March is almost over. I’ll be crunching the numbers on Monday and releasing our monthly expense report in the next blog post, so stay tuned for 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!

Last hike at Camp Vulture

Travel Day, Camp Vulture, Green Desert, Critters

Hooray! We have safely arrived at our new campsite!

We left the Pilot Knob BLM LTVA near Yuma on Friday morning after enjoying the breakfast buffet at the Quechan Resort and Casino. We’re definitely going to miss that particular Friday morning ritual! We certainly enjoyed our stay at Pilot Knob, but with the March winds blowing and the temperatures rising, it was time to move on.

Our route from Yuma to Wickenburg

Our first stop was at the nearby Sidewinder Chevron station to dump the tanks, fill up with fresh water, and top off the propane tank. We then drove into Yuma to refuel the RV and the pickup. Why not just get gas at the Chevron station while we were there? Because the Chevron station (and the LTVA where we were staying) are in California, and the price of gas at that Chevron station was $4.449/gallon. We stopped at the Chevron station in Yuma (Arizona) which was less than 10 miles away, and filled up the tanks for $2.499/gallon. Yes, the price of gasoline in California is much higher than it is in Arizona, but that particular Chevron station next to the LTVA is over-the-top even by California standards!

This was the first time we had put gas in the RV since our last move on December 27. For almost three months we only used gas for running the generator when we needed to power the microwave or the Instant Pots. It took a little over 32 gallons to fill the tank, so we figure about 28-29 gallons went to the generator over those three months. The solar panels did their job and kept the batteries charged, saving us on fuel costs. It was a great investment!

The drive to Wickenburg took us about 4-1/2 hours, including a stop for a bathroom break. The scenery was beautiful along the way! With the extra rainfall that the Southwest has received this winter, the desert is a beautiful green, with flowers blooming everywhere. It was all I could do to keep myself from pulling over to the side of the road and unpacking my camera gear to do some shooting. There were no issues on the drive, and since we had eaten such a large breakfast, we didn’t bother to stop for lunch anywhere.

When we got to Wickenburg  we stopped at the Union 76 station to top off the gas tanks in both vehicles where gas was $2.569. The RV took 23.4 gallons, which calculated to an average of 7.4 MPG on the drive from Yuma to Wickenburg. Since it was mostly uphill with an altitude gain of almost 2500 feet, and we were driving into a 20-25 mph  northerly headwind most of the time, we were pretty satisfied with that mileage.

Our destination was a set of GPS coordinates we found on Campendium.com for free BLM camping on Vulture Mine Road, south of Wickenburg. We found that particular site, but there were several other RVs already parked there, so we continued driving south to scout out other potential campsites. We found a really nice one that we liked a lot, but it wasn’t level enough. After a little more scouting, we found our new site, now known as Camp Vulture, just a little further down the road.

Our new front lawn at Camp Vulture

Like the other BLM sites on this road, it’s basically just a pullout on the side of the road. This one happens to be right next to a cattle guard, so we get a little extra road noise when cars go by, but it’s not a heavily traveled road so it isn’t a big issue. The view from our RV is absolutely stunning, with cactus-covered hills and mountains all around us. The green desert and the red rocks against the blue sky are so beautiful, and then when you get a few clouds at sunset as we did on our first evening here, it can almost take your breath away.

Sunset on our first evening at Camp Vulture

Not everything was beautiful at this site, however. Unfortunately there are people out there who evidently were never taught manners and responsibility by their parents, and who don’t mind just leaving their trash anywhere. The fire-rings at this site were full of trash and broken glass, so as we were getting set up, I filled up a garbage bag with as much trash as I could get out of the piles safely. I had to leave the glass for now until I can get a thick paper bag or a cardboard box to put it in.

Trash left by previous occupants

This is one of the hot issues in the RVing community right now–trash being left on public lands. Sometimes it’s RVers who are the problem, but many (most?) times it’s just local people who come out here to drink and party on the weekends. But if people continue to abuse these beautiful areas by dumping their trash, we’re all going to lose the privileges we currently enjoy to camp for free on OUR land. Therefore, when we find trash on public lands, we will take it upon ourselves to clean it up, while gritting our teeth and swearing under our breath the entire time.

We got a good night’s sleep our first night here. It was so QUIET! We didn’t realize just how much ambient noise there had been at the LTVA where we had stayed for three months–traffic on I-8, trains constantly going by, the wind blowing 20 MPH. Our new camp is far away from any major highways, and although there are some winds during the day, they completely died down at night. There was only the rare sound of a car going by, crossing the cattle guard to disturb the quiet. Oh, and also the howls from a pack of coyotes!

Yesterday we woke to a beautiful sunrise. We enjoyed our coffee on our patio, took care of a couple of small chores, and scouted out the area nearby. There are a huge variety of birds in the area, and we left the front door open (with the screen door closed) so the kitties could be entertained.

Molly watching the birds in the grass outside our front door

After lunch, Andy and I went on a hike along a rough BLM road that is only traversable by ATVs or maybe a 4WD Jeep or something similar. The road goes back into the cactus forest where there are huge saguaro, lots of cholla, and other various cacti.

Not the kind of tree you want to hug!

The entire area is covered in a blanket of green right now, dotted with all kinds of wildflowers. Stunning! We’re so fortunate to be here at this time of year, because once the temperatures warm up, the green grass and flowers will be gone, and it will be a different kind of beauty out here.

Beautiful area for desert hiking

We did see some wildlife on our hike. First we saw a cottontail rabbit hopping across the road in front of us. And then on our return, we came across a snake stretched across the road. From the shape of its head we decided it wasn’t poisonous, so we got a couple of pictures. He just lay there, flicking his tongue, but didn’t seem to be bothered by us at all. We figure he may have just come out of his cool hibernation and was just out to get warmed up by the sun, so he was probably still a little sluggish. When we got back, I did a little research, and I think this was a milk snake, based on the coloring and spot patterns.

Milk snake on our path while hiking

The rest of the day was relaxing and peaceful. The wind did pick up a little bit in the afternoon and it got a little too cool to sit outside, but with all the windows in the rig, we have beautiful views in every direction.

We can stay in this area for 14 days, and then if we want to stay on free BLM land, it has to be at least 25 miles away before we can return to this spot. But by then I expect we’ll be headed even further north as the temperatures start to rise. We have some friends in this area, and hope to be able to see some of them before we move on.

Spring in the desert is beautiful!

We plan to do some sightseeing in the area while we’re here. The old Vulture Mine is nearby, with the associated “ghost town”. The Vulture Mine was the largest gold producer in Arizona history. We’ll be doing our shopping in Wickenburg so we can check out that town while we’re here. There are plenty of hiking opportunities to keep us occupied as well. The Verizon service here is just OK–it varies from two bars of LTE to one bar of 1X–but we’ve been able to stream videos most of the time, so we can still entertain ourselves.

So that’s it from Camp Vulture! It’s great to be on the road again, seeing new places and having new adventures.

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!

 

RV Expense Report – December 2017

Happy New Year, everyone, from our campsite in the BLM Pilot Knob LTVA in Winterhaven, California, just west of Yuma, Arizona. We hope your 2018 was as exciting and fulfilling as ours was, and that this new year brings you nothing but great things! Get out there and make it happen!!

Now it’s time for our monthly expense report where we share the costs associated with our full-time RV life.

First, a reminder of the caveats. 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 our fourth full month 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 majority of December boondocking (camping without hookups) in Arizona on BLM land. We spent the week leading up to Christmas in a mobile home/RV park in Glendale, AZ where we had full hookups, so we could take care of some maintenance items and also visit with some friends. We got our solar system set up and running and it’s already reducing the our boondocking expenses by cutting our generator hours way back, but it did require some additional expenditures for the month.

That said, here’s how the expenses stacked up.

Camping fees + Electricity

October: $323 (7 different locations, but primarily in state parks at $4/night.) We bought the $225 annual pass for the New Mexico State Parks which is actually good for 13 months. For purposes of this monthly expense report, we’re pro-rating that cost over 13 months.)

November: $137 (Nov 1-3 @ Elephant Butte SP, Nov 4-17 @ Leasburg Dam SP, Nov 18-30 @ Pancho Villa SP, all at $4/night on annual pass. Expense number also includes prorated cost of the annual pass.)

December: $166 (1 free night in a Chevron parking lot, 1 free night in Camping World parking lot, 16 free nights on BLM land in the cactus forest, 7 nights in RV park in Glendale at $19.50/night, 5 nights in our current location in the BLM LTVA where we paid $180 for the annual pass, good through April 15 which comes out to $1.89/night  which I’m pro-rating on this expense report.)

Four month average: $266

Setting up camp at sunset at Pilot Knob LTVA

DUMPING FEES

October: $0

November: $0

December: $16 (While boondocking we had to pay to dump our tanks at the Pilot/Flying J stations.)

Four month average: $4

Fuel for the RV

October: $452 (Drove 1,335 miles, 0 generator hours, 8.3 MPG)

November: $79 (Drove 172 miles, 0 generator hours, 8.8 MPG)

December: $367 (Drove 767 miles, 91.5 generator hours, ~9.1 MPG net of generator use.) We started using the generator this month since we were boondocking without electrical hookups. The generator uses gas from the RV fuel tank.

Four month average: $240

Fuel for the Truck

October: $245 (21.5 MPG)

November: $52 (17.7 MPG)

December $221 (20.0 MPG)

Four month average: $169

PROPANE

October: $0

November: $31 (12 gallons) – We use propane primarily for cooking. In November we began using the onboard propane furnace more as the temperatures got colder, running it for a little while in the early morning to supplement the small electric heater.

December: $32 (10 gallons)

Four month average: $16

groceries

October: $499

November: $479

December: $492

Four month average: $479

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

October: $194

November: $213

December: $253 (mostly while we were staying in Glendale, running errands all over the place.)

Four month average: $219

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

Amazing vegan food at Seed Shack in Gilbert AZ

household / furnishings

October: $52

November: $87

December: $42

Four month average: $63

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

petcare

October: $45

November: $5 (we were well stocked up from October)

December: $246 – We took both the cats to the vet in Glendale after Maggie got sick on the drive and showed signs of having worms. Both have been treated and are doing fine.

Four month average: $92

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

October: $245

November: $254 – This month we upgraded to the next higher level for unlimited data so we won’t get throttled so much.

December: $286 – Charge increased as we’re now on the higher data plan.

Four month average: $258

These numbers include a prorated charge for the purchase of our iPhones when we bought them last fall. 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 on the AboveUnlimited data plan so we can go longer without getting throttled. Once the phones are paid off next fall, the monthly charge should drop significantly unless the plan rates go up.

mail forwarding

October: $12

November: $16 – We had mail forwarded twice, but also requested one additional shipment when Andy’s mail-order prescription meds came in.

December: $37 – We had mail forwarded once to Glendale AZ, but with the holidays and weekends, it did not arrive before we moved on, so that packet will get sent back to Livingston where it will be added to a future mail forwarding. Lesson learned: always specify “Priority Mail” with a tracking number when requesting mail forwarding. Also, we signed up to have our mail scanned for the next two months since it’s tax season. This way we can see what has arrived at our mailbox in Livingston, and we can pick and choose what we want to have sent to us and what can be shredded. If anything of a time-sensitive nature comes in, we’ll also know to have that forwarded to us right away. The scanning service is $10/month.

Four month average: $16

Laundry

October: $7

November: $22 – We did laundry twice, first in Truth or Consequences where the machines were bad and expensive, and the second time in Deming where the facilities were much nicer and less costly.

December: $18 – We did laundry once in Glendale, but we also washed all the quilts and blankets from the bed. One of the kitties had a little accident after the stress from the vet visit.

Four month average: $18

attractions / entertainment

October: $84

November: $56

December: $137 – I’ve started a new hobby of geocaching, so I paid for a one-year subscription to the premium version of the geocaching app that shows ALL the caches in the area instead of just the very few that were shown in the free version. I also had to renew my annual “plus” subscription to my Evernote app, which is my online notebook for EVERYTHING.

Four month average: $89

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

memberships

October: $60 (annual renewal for Costco membership)

November: $49 (annual renewal for Sam’s Club membership)

December: $0

Four month average: $27

Equipment for RV

October: $207 (new surge protector to replace one that got fried in a thunderstorm, two vent covers for the roof, extra set of leveling blocks, and other miscellaneous items)

November: $2,215 (ordered solar kit including three 100-watt solar panels and a Kodiak portable solar generator. Here’s a link to the kit we purchased.)

December: $388 (Solar charge controller + cables and wiring supplies, black tank cleaning wand, 50amp dogbone, battery tester, moving blankets to protect solar panels when driving)

Four month average: $722

Kodiak linked to one solar panel, tested successfully

RV Maintenance & REpairs

October: $46 (kit to repair leaky toilet, new gasket seal for bathroom roof vent)

November: $22 (changed out the water filter)

December: $472 (replaced both house batteries, replaced toilet when foot pedal flusher began to fail, replaced weather stripping over cab area)

Four month average: $136

Removing the old toilet

truck maintenance & repairs

October: $0

November: $0

December: $0

Four month average: $3

Vehicle insurance

We have insurance through Progressive and get a multi-vehicle discount. Right now we’re paying $57/mo for the RV and $40/mo for the truck.

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:

October Total: $2,605

November Total: $3,852 ($1,637 excluding the purchase of the solar kit)

December Total: $3,306

Four month average: $2,952

It obviously makes a huge difference whether we’re moving around a lot or staying in one location for an extended length of time. Except for the huge hit on the solar kit that we purchased, November was a very good month in terms of expenses. We lived very well while spending very little. In December we drove more, continued putting together our solar system, and had some additional maintenance items to attend to, so our expenses were higher than we would have liked, even with the free boondocking. We’ll be monitoring our expenses closely in January to hopefully bring our average spending lower.

We purchased the annual pass to the BLM Long Term Visitor Area for $180, which allows us to boondock at any of the seven LTVAs in Arizona and California through April 15. We won’t be moving the RV around very much during this time until the weather gets too warm to stay this far south. Less fuel, less wear and tear on Lizzy, less stress on us and the kitties.

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.