Pilot Knob LTVA, Solar Power, Geocaching, Los Algodones Mexico, Missing Family

We just spent our twelfth night boondocking here at the Pilot Knob BLM LTVA (that’s Bureau of Land Management Long Term Visitor Area). So far we are really enjoying it, even though we haven’t spent a whole lot of time exploring the area.

The first few days we were here were spent getting our solar system up and running. Andy had to drill a hole in the floor just above the battery compartment in the entry steps so he could run the cables from the battery to the new charge controller which he mounted above the front door. He ran the cables through a length of PVC pipe conduit to make them less obvious. Now he just needs to fasten the conduit to the wall and then seal up the hole, and that project will be complete.

Our new solar charge controller lets us know how our batteries are doing

We are in love with our new solar system! It has drastically reduced the amount of time we need to run the generator–now we only run it when we need to use the microwave or the Instant Pot, or on a rare rainy day like we had on Saturday. Each morning before the sun even rises, the panels start charging a tiny bit as soon as there is light in the sky. Since I’m the early riser in the family, I go outside and turn the panels toward the east, and at about 7:15 AM when the sun finally rises over the nearby mountain, the panels start doing their magic. By watching the numbers on the charge controller, you can literally see the voltage flowing into the batteries as the sun rises. During the day, we turn the panels to the south and then to the west to follow the sun. On most days the batteries are fully charged by about 10:00 AM, and then the panels just keep them topped off until the sun goes down, by which time we have enough voltage to get us through the night.

Our solar kit also came with the Kodiak portable solar generator, which is basically a big lithium battery with an inverter which allows us to plug in any of our devices that need to be charged, as well as any of our small appliances that run on 110V like the television, Roku, hair dryer, etc. Without the Kodiak, we would have to run the generator to power those devices.

Our new Kodiak portable generator to be charged with solar panels

Since our campsite is free (after purchasing the $180 annual pass last month) and we’re not spending money on fuel to move from campground to campground this month, we’re hoping that the additional savings from not running the generator will all add up to make this a month of significant cost savings, which would be really nice after the last two months of solar investment, maintenance, and repair costs.

This is our first time to stay in a BLM LTVA, and it’s an interesting experience. The camp hosts are a couple named Roy and Joann, who basically collect the entrance fees and answer questions. There are no designated campsites, you just find an area that you like and park your rig there. There are a few rigs that are parked fairly close together since they are friends traveling together, but mostly everyone is pretty spread out and respectful of each other’s privacy. There are all types of rigs from big Class A motorhomes, truck campers, fifth wheels, travel trailers, vans, small Class B and C motorhomes like ours, and even skoolies. It is very quiet here, other than the sounds of the trains going by.

One of our neighbors barely visible through the Sunday morning fog

After having such an intense week in Glendale at Christmas time and then spending a couple of days working on the solar system, it was nice to finally just relax and hang out without having an agenda. Most of the time the weather has been nice, although there were a few days that were extremely windy and cool, and yesterday it rained most of the afternoon. It has never gone below freezing at night where we are, even though it has been colder just to the north of us in Quartzsite and Phoenix.

There are a lot of geocaches in the area, so I’ve gone out on several hunts. Andy went with me on one of my hunts, and I think he might be starting to get the bug! 🙂 Even though the desert looks flat when you look outward, once you start walking across it you find small dunes and washes that conceal all kinds of interesting things that make good hiding places for caches. So far I’ve found caches in an old squatters’ shack, a tree next to an old hot tub, an old paint can, and a pipe buried in the sand in the middle of an old tire. From a short distance away, none of these places are visible due to the slight undulations of the land.

Found a geocache in this abandoned squatters shack hidden between the dunes

There’s also a rock quarry in the side of the mountain (Pilot Knob) next to the campground. There are some geocaches hidden at the top of the quarry and the mountain. Andy and I made an attempt to go after them but the only trail we could find to the top was very steep and unstable, so we decided it wasn’t worth risking an injury. We’re know our limits! 🙂 But we did have a nice hike to a spot about a third of the way up the quarry where we got a great view of the area.

Hiking down from the rock quarry (photo cred: Andy)

So far we’ve gone into Yuma three times. Andy went once to pick up some wire he needed for the solar hookup, and then we went grocery shopping twice at Walmart (two different ones). Once interesting challenge with this location has to do with oranges. When we drive back to the campground (located in California) from grocery shopping in Yuma (Arizona), we have to go through an agricultural inspection station and tell them whether or not we have any fresh produce. If you remember from our previous post, when we first arrived, they actually came inside the RV to inspect, but let us keep our produce. It seems they are most interested in oranges. When we went grocery shopping last week, of course we loaded up on produce as we always do, and that included oranges. We were hoping that since we were in the pickup instead of the RV, they would just wave us through. But no, when we rolled up to the inspector, he specifically asked if we had oranges, and we couldn’t lie. He asked to see them, and then said that although technically he should confiscate them, he would let us keep them “this time”. Of course, yesterday when we went shopping we decided not to get any oranges, and when we pulled up to the inspector he just waved us through without stopping us. You never know. It’s a bummer because the closest grocery store to us on the California side of the border is about 37 miles away, so we’re going to see if we can find a farmer’s market stand or something a little closer that sells California oranges.

Last Friday we spent most of the day in Los Algodones, Mexico. The border crossing is about four miles from where we are….in fact, we can see the lights of Algodones from our campsite at night. Getting in to Mexico is no problem. The local Indian tribe has a parking lot next to the border where you pay $6 for a regular passenger vehicle, then you just walk down the sidewalk through a couple of small buildings with some un-manned metal detectors, and then you’re in Mexico.

Arriving in Los Algodones, Baja California, Mexico

The place is crowded this time of year with American senior citizens who are there to get their prescriptions filled, their glasses replaced, and their dental work done, all at prices much lower than in the US. Many of them live in Arizona and Southern California and come here on a regular basis, others are full-time RVers who specifically stay in this area in the winter for this purpose.

We didn’t need any those services, we were just there for some Mexican food, a margarita, and some sightseeing. We had lunch at a popular spot called “El Pariso” or The Garden Place. It’s a large outdoor seating area surrounded by shops. While you are perusing the menu, a small army of vendors approach your table with all kinds of things for sale–jewelry, wall art, blankets, hats, ponchos, belts, t-shirts, you name it. But once your food arrives, they pretty much leave you alone. I bought a hat which actually came in handy because the sun got pretty intense even though the temperatures were very comfortable. The food was so-so, but the margarita was excellent!

Lunch at The Garden Patio (El Pariso) in Los Algodones

After lunch we did some shopping around for a particular kind of candy we found several months ago when we crossed the border from Columbus, NM to Palomas, Mexico. It’s called Damy Peanut Crunch, and it sells on Amazon for $12.95 for a 100-count bag. We get it in Mexico for about $3.50/bag. Luckily we found it in a small candy store in Algodones, and we found another brand that is similar (although the pieces are smaller) for about $2.05 in the liquor/pharmacy store.

When in Mexico we always look for a bakery, or panadería. We didn’t spot one immediately so we asked one of the vendors, and he said there wasn’t one currently open. Later we stopped to get some freshly made churros from a street vendor, and the guy that was helping him told us about a bakery that was close by, and he volunteered to walk us to it. His name was Victor, and he was such a nice guy. He told us about all the times he visited and lived in the US (which explains how he speaks such good English), but he has returned to Mexico to be with his family. Victor helped us find the Pan Superior bakery where we picked up some of our favorite Mexican sweet breads.

Shopping in the panadería for Mexican sweet breads

The worst part of going across the border in Algodones is the long line to get back into the US. We waited somewhere between 45 minutes to an hour, and we’re told that it’s usually closer to two hours. They do provide shade and benches to sit on while waiting in line, and there are restrooms and vendors selling bottled water. Since a large portion of the people in the line are senior citizens, it’s good that they have some amenities to make the wait a little less uncomfortable. Once we got to the front of the line, we sailed right past the customs agent.

We’re already looking forward to our next visit to Algodones–there’s just something special about having easy access to visit a different country and culture, and meeting friendly people like Victor.

In other maintenance news, Andy was able to get the bat-wing TV antenna fixed so it raises and lowers from the ceiling crank on the inside. After we got it raised, we ran the channel scan on the TV and didn’t pick up a single over-the-air station, so we assumed we were either too far out in the desert or maybe we were being blocked by the nearby mountain. But then I noticed that other rigs had their bat-wing antennas up and it didn’t make sense that they would have them up if there was no reception. So I did some investigating a few days later and found a small push-button switch hidden in one of the overhead bins. There were no instructions or labels on the switch, except for the brand name Winegard, which is the brand of the antenna. I pushed the button and a green light came on, so I tried the channel scan again, and Voila!! We’ve got 19 digital channels coming in, about half of which are in Spanish, but we do get the major networks. The picture is crisp and clear, so chalk that up as a win. Of course, we rarely watch TV anyway, but it’s good to know we can see the next season of “The Voice” and maybe even the Super Bowl!

Other than that, we’ve just been hanging out and enjoying life. There are definitely more rigs here in the LTVA than there were when we first arrived, but there is still a lot of empty space around us. Now that we have our maintenance tasks done and we’re stocked up on groceries, we’re looking forward to doing some sightseeing in the area. There’s a lot of history here, and Yuma actually has a lot of cultural activities on their weekly calendar. We’ll let you know what we get into.

Oh yes, we learned one other thing yesterday when we picked up our mail which we had had forwarded to us via General Delivery in Winterhaven, CA. The postmaster there told me that you are only allowed to use General Delivery at a specific post office for 30 days out of a calendar year, and after that you need to rent a P.O. box. That’s interesting information, but when our thirty days are up and we need to have another packet of mail forwarded to us out here, we’ll just pick a different post office. Winner winner, tofu dinner!! 😀

Lastly, on a very personal note, you’ll notice that it’s been longer than usual since I posted to the blog. Last week we received word that my nephew and his wife lost their baby in the middle of her third trimester of pregnancy. We were devastated for them, and it was difficult knowing that we were so far away and could not be there to join the rest of the family for the memorial service. I just didn’t feel like blogging while going through such an emotional time. We send our love and prayers to Tyler and Allie and their two sons, Hudson and Westin, as they deal with the loss of baby Mackson. Our hearts are back in Mississippi with them, even while we are parked here in the California desert.

Thanks for reading the blog, and be sure to share it with your friends if they are interested in full-time RV living! You can also follow us on Instagram to see what we’re doing between blog posts.

Take care, safe travels, and live every day to the fullest!!

 

 

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.

Christmas Remembrances, New Toilet Install, Tamales With Friends, Moving to California

We spent a fairly quiet Christmas Day in Glendale, Arizona after almost a week of hustle and bustle. I baked some cinnamon rolls for breakfast, and then around 11:00 AM I started a seitan pot roast in the crock pot for our vegan dinner. (If you’re not familiar with seitan, here a link to find out more.) While dinner was cooking, we took some time to visit the gravesites of Andy’s mom and dad and place some Christmas decorations on their markers.

A Christmas visit to the resting place of Andy’s parents

We also placed flowers on the marker for Andy’s aunt and uncle who are buried in the same cemetery. This was the first time in several years that we have been able to visit these memorials, and it was nice to be able to do so on Christmas Day.

The day after Christmas (Wednesday) was a whirlwind of activity as we were trying to get all our chores done before it was time to leave Glendale. In addition we had been invited to a Christmas party by one of Andy’s former co-workers, so we had to hustle.

The top priority of the day was to get the new toilet installed, but first we wanted to flush the black tank. If you’re not familiar with RV black tanks, they have sensors installed inside them that are connected to the control panel, and they are supposed to let you know how full your tank is getting. But over time, “debris” can accumulate on the sensors, and it can appear that your tank is more full than it is. We used a pressure wand made specifically for flushing black tanks, hooked it up to the water hose, stuck it down through the toilet valve, and cleaned the tank thoroughly.

After cleaning the tank, Andy removed the old toilet with the malfunctioning foot pedal (it would no longer consistently turn off the water flow after flushing, which could have potentially caused a flood in the RV), and then installed our new Thetford toilet. It was actually a pretty quick process, and since the black tank had been flushed, there was no problem with smell.

Removing the old toilet

Once again, we were thankful that the timing of this repair worked out like it did, with us being close to a Camping World store, plus having full hookups with water and sewer, along with a dumpster to dispose of the old toilet. Things really do just work out.

After the toilet installation, I did some more housekeeping in the RV, and then we made a run to the post office to check on our Escapees mail (still had not arrived), and then to the grocery store to stock up on fresh vegetables and fruit (which became a little bit of an issue as you’ll see shortly).

That night, we finally got to have some fun, as we attended a Christmas party in the home of one of Andy’s former co-workers, Angelica, and her son, Devon. Angelica has a tradition of hosting a get-together for her family and friends on the night AFTER Christmas, which I think is brilliant. She served a traditional meal of tamales (both spinach/cheese and red with meat), along with pozole (soup or stew made with pork), rice and beans. Although we don’t usually eat meat, we decided not long ago to make an exception when someone invites us into their home–we eat what they prepare. And the food was all delicious. We enjoyed getting to meet Angelica’s family and friends, catching up on work-related gossip, participating in the Dirty Santa gift exchange, and then being presented with a to-go bag of tamales and homemade fudge. Thanks again, Angelica and Devon, for sharing your Christmas holiday gathering with us. We love you!

Good food, good friends Angelica and Devon

After we got back from the Christmas party, we finally sat down at the computer to figure out where we wanted to go next. We knew we wanted to move toward southwestern Arizona where the weather is warmer for the winter, but the area can get quite crowded with all the snowbirds. (Haha, when we lived in Glendale we used to complain about all the snowbirds tying up traffic and crowding the restaurants, and now we’re part of the “problem”!!) We knew we wanted to boondock to save money, but we are not familiar with the area and didn’t want to risk trying to find an offgrid site on some random gravel road after dark.

We finally decided to take advantage of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Long Term Visitor Areas (LTVAs), located in Arizona and California. The BLM has seven winter LTVAs where you can set up camp for an extended length of time by paying one fee. For $180, you can get a permit to use the LTVA from September through the following April, and that includes being able to move from one LTVA to another. Unfortunately, they do NOT prorate the cost of the permit, so even though it’s now the end of December, the permit is still $180. If you’re interested in learning more about LTVA’s here’s a link to a great summary on FreeCampsites.net. Unfortunately, the BLM website is down right now due to the government shut-down, so I can’t direct you to their official information.

We elected to head to the Pilot Knob LTVA which is located just west of Yuma, right across the California state line. We chose this location because of its proximity to good grocery shopping in Yuma as well as a popular border crossing into Mexico at Los Algodones. We love walking across the border for good Mexican food, and Los Agodones is known for its pharmacies, dentists and eye doctors who cater especially to Americans who are tired of paying exorbitant prices for healthcare in the U.S.

So yesterday (Thursday), we broke camp in Glendale, leaving the mobile home park where we had stayed for a week. While Andy drove the RV to Costco to top off the propane, I made one more trip to the post office to check on our mail from Escapees, and unfortunately it still had not arrived. As far as I know, there is nothing urgent or time-sensitive in the packet, so it will eventually be returned to Livingston where our mail service can add it to a future shipment. This was the first time we didn’t use Priority Mail when requesting our mail packet, and with the holidays, it just took too long to arrive. Lesson learned: we will always request Priority Mail on future mail forwarding requests.

Our route from Glendale AZ to Pilot Knob LTVA in Winterhaven, CA

We had a nice drive on our travels, stopping for lunch in Gila Bend in the large parking lot of a Shell station. Honestly, one of my favorite parts of this lifestyle are our lunches in random parking lots–it’s so cool to have our refrigerator, stove, dining table, and kitchen sink right there with us in climate-controlled comfort while we watch the big trucks and other travelers come and go. We prepared our normal lunch, washed the dishes, and then hit the road again.

We made a final stop for gasoline at a Love’s station in Yuma, knowing that the gas prices would be much higher once we crossed the state line into California. We paid $2.54/gallon at Love’s, and the price at the Chevron station just outside our new campsite in California is $4.79/gallon. We will definitely be driving the seven miles back into Yuma when we need to fill up the gas tank.

The next tricky part of the trip was going through the agricultural inspection station right before we got to our campground. When arriving in California, your vehicle can be inspected for fresh fruits and vegetables that might be carrying diseases or pests that can contaminate and possibly cause financial loss to the California farming areas. As I mentioned above, we had just bought groceries before leaving Glendale, and we had plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables in the RV. We didn’t want to toss them out without at least trying to see if they would let us keep them.

When we got to the inspection station, they were pretty much just waving the passenger cars through. But when Andy pulled the RV up to the inspector, the guy asked him if he was carrying any fruits or vegetables, and hey, we’re not gonna lie. Andy told him what we had and told him he was welcome to come inside the RV to check it out, which he did. The inspector was especially interested in the oranges, which we had purchased at Walmart and did not have stickers on them showing the origin. However, I guess he didn’t think it was worth the hassle, because he said “Those look like California oranges to me”, and let us go through. Whew!!

The Pilot Knob BLM site is just about a mile past the inspection station, and we pulled in about 3:30 PM PST (we also changed time zones and gained an hour when we hit California). We met the camp host, a nice lady named Joann, who told us that even though the BLM is shut down, they had contacted her and told her that they should still collect the fees. The LTVA is all dispersed camping, meaning there are no designated campsites, you just look for a level area of open space and park your RV. It helps if you can find an area where the previous occupant might have left a fire ring of rocks, indicating that it’s probably a good level place to camp. We found a nice spot, although it took us a little time to position the RV where it was as level as possible, then went back to the entrance to pay our annual $180 fee and get our permit stickers for the vehicles.

Setting up camp at sunset at Pilot Knob LTVA

We can see I-8 from our campsite, but there’s really not a lot of traffic noise. There is also a train track running along the interstate, and we can definitely hear the train horns but after awhile you don’t notice them. Finally, there is a military base near here, so we get some flyovers of helicopters from time to time.

We were afraid the LTVA would be crowded already with snowbirds, but Joann told us that it hasn’t been nearly as crowded this year as it has been in the past. She said that the younger people aren’t coming here like the older ones did. Fine with me, more space for us! There are some beautiful big rigs parked here, as well as some older, smaller trailers and vans. We love the variety of neighbors, especially since there’s plenty of space and privacy around us.

Our new desert campsite by the mountains

So that’s where we are this morning, in the BLM Pilot Knob LTVA located in Winterhaven, California. We have no idea how long we will stay in this one location. We are paid up through April, but will most likely move up closer to Quartzsite, Arizona to the La Posa LTVA once the huge crowds leave at the end of January. One drawback to our current location is that there is no dump station or water spigots in the campground, although there are facilities fairly close by with those amenities, sometimes for a fee. If we move to the LTVA in Quartzsite, they do have those amenities available in the campground itself, included in the permit that we’ve already purchased.

Today we’re going to relax and enjoy our new surroundings. Andy is going to work on getting our solar system up and running now that we’re back in the sunshine.

I want to send a special shout-out to my Dad. Yesterday as we were driving into Yuma, I briefly caught a glimpse of a text message notification that popped up momentarily on my iPhone which was, at the time, being used for navigation. All I saw in that quick glance was “am at the ER in Tupelo with your dad“. As soon as we got stopped at the Love’s station, I checked the text and found that my 82-year-old Daddy was in the hospital for an emergency appendectomy. I managed to get in touch with Mom to get details, and long story short, he had a successful surgery and this morning he’s on his way home with very minimal pain or discomfort. Hooray! Love you, Daddy!

This is the one regret I have about this lifestyle–not being close to family for events like this. When we lived in Tupelo, we were able to quickly drive to the hospital to be with family members when they were sick. Fortunately that doesn’t happen very often, and none of us should put our lives on hold just waiting for some catastrophe to happen. But know this–if anyone in either of our families has an emergency and needs us, we will be on the next flight out to get back to them. We will figure it out. We will make it happen. We both love our families and miss them while we’re on the road!

Be sure to follow us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads to keep up with what we’re doing between blog posts. And feel free to share this blog with your family and friends who might be interested in full-time RV life!

Boondocking Ends, Back to Hookups and City Life, Worms?

Yesterday (Thursday) we left our campsite in the Cactus Forest on BLM land after spending 16 glorious days in the Arizona desert. Our very first true boondocking experience was everything that we had hoped it would be, even if there were some anxious moments learning to monitor and conserve our battery usage.

There was a lot to love about that campsite. The sunrises and sunsets were amazing almost every day, except the few days it was completely overcast. It was peaceful and quiet, except for the faint background noise of gunfire coming from a shooting range a couple of miles away, and the occasional helicopter from a nearby airbase flying overhead. There was a lot of privacy as there are only five or six spots to set up camp on the little road, and they are spaced well apart from each other.

I got my feet wet in my new hobby of geocaching while we were there, successfully locating five caches in some pretty interesting locations and containers. We did lots of hiking through the desert and along the dirt road. And we were close enough to Tucson that we could drive into town for supplies and groceries.

We got a lot better acquainted with our RV, Lizzy, as we learned to live without electrical and water hookups. While we didn’t have to pay for the campsite, it still wasn’t “free”. We had to pay for propane for heat and refrigeration, and we had to pay extra for gasoline to run the generator to keep the batteries charged. I’ll be doing some analysis of the numbers to find out what our average daily costs were while boondocking, and report those back to you when we do the month-end financial recap.

Leaving our campsite in the Cactus Forest on BLM land

But yesterday it was time to move on, so we packed up and drove to our new temporary home in the Triple T Mobile Home and RV Park in Glendale, Arizona. We chose this spot for two reasons–they are part of the Passport America discount program, and it’s near where we used to live so we’re familiar with the area.

With the Passport America discount, we’re paying half price for the site, or $19.50/night, for full hookups, which is a steal during snowbird season in Arizona. The park is rather old and is mostly filled with long-term mobile homes and RV’s. They didn’t have any RV sites available, but they had a long-term site that had just opened up, so they put us between two mobile homes. Not the best view we’ve ever had, but for six nights, we can handle it.

Our new temporary home in Glendale AZ

When Andy started to hookup the electricity, he found that the receptacle configuration didn’t match our plug, so he couldn’t connect. He thought that the receptacle might be 50-amp since this was a long-term spot, so we went to Walmart and bought a 50 amp to 30 amp adapter, commonly known as a “dog bone”, to make the connection. On the way back we stopped by the office to officially check in, and when we mentioned the receptacle, Wendy, the office manager, checked her records and said that it should be 30 amps, not 50.

Our 30-amp plug didn’t match their 30-amp receptacle

When we got back to the RV, Andy looked at it again and compared the receptacle to the 50-amp dog bone, and they didn’t match. He took photos of the receptacle and our RV plug and went back to the office to talk to Wendy. She immediately notified her onsite maintenance guy to change out the receptacle, and within an hour it was complete and we were connected to electricity. Hallelujah!!

Maintenance guy replaced the receptacle–great customer service!

We got the water hooked up, connected the sewer hose and dumped the tanks, and even got the TV set up to receive local channels. After all that, Andy decided he wanted to visit a local Thai place where we used to eat a lot, so we went to Siam Thai Restaurant on Northern at 51st Avenue and had a delicious meal while we unwound a little bit.

It was so strange last night, hearing all the planes, trains and automobiles, as well as the voices of children outside the RV, after being in such quiet surroundings for over two weeks. We were afraid we might not sleep well, but we both conked out pretty quickly.

We have a long checklist of things we need to do while we’re here in Glendale. Since Tuesday is Christmas and a lot of places will be closing early on Monday as well as being closed on Sunday, we’ll have to compress a lot into the next couple of days. The last few pieces of our solar kit have been delivered to our friend Nicki’s house, so we’ll pick that up today. We plan to also visit a solar system supplier to pick up a couple of other items that we need to hook the solar panels to our house batteries. Andy wants to run by the local Onan generator shop to pick up some filters and oil for the generator. We have mail being delivered to the post office here that we need to pick up, and then there’s the usual laundry, grocery shopping, haircut (for me, not Andy!).

We have an unexpected appointment that we had to make for this morning–a visit to our old veterinarian here in Glendale. Yesterday while we were driving, Maggie threw up, which she has never done before. And I noticed that there were what looked like tiny worms in her puke. So we immediately made an appointment to take her in for a checkup, and while we’re at it, we’re taking Molly as well. Both kitties are eating well and drinking plenty of water,  but they both have had some potty issues lately, so it’s time to get them checked. This morning I’m collecting stool samples–what fun. 😛

We’re scheduled to be here in this spot through Tuesday night, leaving on Wednesday, but if for some reason the vet needs to see the kitties for a follow-up, we might be here in the area a little longer. We’re hoping that’s not the case because we’re already getting anxious to get back out to the open spaces and relative quiet of the desert. We’re planning to be somewhere in the Quartzsite/Yuma/Ehrenberg area, although we are NOT planning to attend the RTR–way too congested for us!!

We’ll know more about our plans after this morning’s vet visit.

For updates between the blog posts, you can follow us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads.

Happy holidays and safe travels, everyone!

 

Boondocking – From Asphalt to BLM

As you know, we spent the first three months of our full-time RV life connected to electricity and water hookups, with an occasional sewer connection. We stayed in state parks and private campgrounds where there were dump stations and showers, but also camping fees.

Well, we’ve changed things up considerably in our fourth month. We’ve now graduated to boondocking!

As I reported in our last post, after leaving New Mexico on Sunday, we spent the night in the back lot of a Chevron station in San Simon, Arizona, along with a lot of eighteen-wheelers. We actually got a pretty good night’s sleep in spite of the traffic noise from the interstate. We ran our generator all night in order to use the electric heater, so it all became white noise after awhile.

On Monday morning Andy made some phone calls to locate a source for new house batteries, and we decided to go to Camping World. They had the batteries that we needed, the warranty would be good at any Camping World in the country, and they would also allow us to park overnight in their parking lot until they could work us in on Tuesday morning.

So after having breakfast in the back lot of the Chevron station, we pulled out and drove across the street to the Shell station to top off the gas tank in the RV even though we had filled the tank the night before at Chevron. We just wanted to see how much gas the generator had used overnight. Turned out it used 6.4 gallons in 15.1 hours, so we’re getting about 2 hours and 20 minutes per gallon of gas. We were also going to top off our propane there, but they ran out when they were helping the customer in front of us.

We drove on into Tucson, arriving at Camping World around 11:00 AM. We went ahead and picked out the batteries that we wanted and set up our service appointment for 8:30 AM the following morning. They have a pretty small parking lot, but we got a good space and settled in, having a good lunch in the RV while we watched customers come and go.

Boondocking in the Camping World parking lot in Tucson

After lunch we decided to do a little exploring in Tucson, primarily to get some ice cream. We drove downtown and parked at Broadway and 6th Avenue. By the way, have you used the ParkMobile app yet to pay for your parking? We first used it in Santa Fe, but found that Tucson also uses it. Very convenient!

We got some delicious ice cream at The Screamery on Congress Street. I had the Sweet Cream Honeycomb and the Rough At Sea. I don’t remember what Andy had, but it was all very good, and the guy that waited on us was very friendly and professional. We highly recommend The Screamery!

Ice cream at The Screamery on Congress Street in Tucson

Afterwards we took a stroll down Congress Street to the Veinte de Agosto Park to see the statue of Pancho Villa. I never realized old Pancho was such a popular character in the area, but he seems to be everywhere! We walked back up Broadway to get back to our parking space, and found this area of Tucson to be full of restaurants, condos, small shops, even a downtown grocery store. If I were in the mood to live in a sticks-and-bricks again, I would definitely consider looking for a condo in this area of Tucson.

Statue of Pancho Villa in Tucson

We returned to Camping World and then spent about an hour looking through some of the RVs they have for sale on the lot. They mostly had travel trailers which didn’t interest us, but we did go through some Class A’s and fifth-wheels, just to check out some floor plans. We’re not planning to trade in Lizzy for awhile, but it doesn’t hurt to stay up to date on what’s out there.

Touring RVs on the sales lot at Camping World

Camping World closed at 6:00 PM so the parking lot cleared out except for us and a big Class A rig that was also spending the night. We cooked dinner, cleaned up the dishes and settled in for the night. Once again we were right off the interstate, and there was plenty of security lighting in the parking lot, so it was almost like napping during the daytime instead of sleeping. We still managed to get some good rest before rising early for our service appointment.

They had told us we could pull the rig around to the service area at 8:00 AM, and sure enough they knocked on our door at 7:55 to make sure we were ready. We verified that it was okay to leave the cats inside the rig while they were swapping out the batteries, and they even agreed to let one of us stay inside with them. So Andy stayed in the rig while I waited inside the store. They were finished with everything by 9:00 AM, to the tune of $285. We got two new deep-cycle, 150 amp-hour batteries, and also were told that the previous batteries had been hooked up incorrectly. That, combined with the fact that we rarely drew down the batteries at all since we were always hooked up to electricity, probably contributed to their early failure. Now we have our electrical system in good shape and ready to work with the new solar panels that we have ordered.

New batteries installed to make boondocking more comfortable

We weren’t ready to leave Tucson just yet because we were waiting on an Amazon delivery to a nearby locker. The item was scheduled to be delivered “before 9 PM”, and we were hoping for something on the earlier side. Since we needed to pick up a few groceries, we left Camping World after topping off the propane tank, and drove to Walmart, taking a spot on the far edge of the parking lot. We fixed a cup of hot tea and settled in with our books and iPhones. Around 11:00 AM we went inside and did our grocery shopping, then put the groceries away and had lunch.

Since our destination for the night was on BLM land in an unfamiliar area, we decided that we needed to leave Walmart by 1:00 PM to allow time for dumping the tanks and finding a camping spot, even if our Amazon package had not arrived by then. We located a free dump station using the Campendium app (yay!) on Flowing Wells Road in Tucson. A big thanks to Merrigans Arizona RoadRunner RV for providing free sewer dump and fresh water fill-ups to the RV community. I did spend a little money in the store to say “thank-you”.

Free dump station in Tucson

Our destination for the night was a BLM campsite commonly known as Cactus Forest Campground on Cattle Tank Road, just northeast of Red Rock, AZ. It was a good thing that we left Tucson when we did, because when we got off the interstate and started east on East Park Link Drive, we found the road was totally closed for construction. It’s out in a rural area, so there aren’t a huge number of alternate routes to get where we were going. We tried a road that looked promising and wound up on a small dirt road that led to someone’s ranch where we turned around. A friendly guy came out to the rig and directed us to an alternate route using Missile Base Road.

So we turned around and went back toward Tucson until we found Missile Base Road and turned east. This route would bring us into the campsite from the south instead of the north. Unfortunately, Google Maps didn’t know about the brand new paved extension of Cattle Tank Road. Instead, it directed us to another dirt road that was horrendous–we wound up turning around in someone’s driveway again (Andy’s getting really good at that).

We went back to the new paved extension, and even though it wasn’t on the map, we decided to go for it, and it brought us right to the campsite.

New paved extension on South Cattle Tank Road, not yet on Google maps

After living in developed campgrounds with hookups for the past 18 months since we bought the RV, we were in for quite a different experience. The only indication that we were in the right place was a brown metal post that had the BLM logo on it and said “No Dumping” and “Camping 14-Day Limit”. There is a good-sized lot at the entrance where a Class A was parked next to a primitive corral that contained a couple of watering tanks. The dirt and gravel road that leads further into the area is narrow with cactus on each side. Within the first 100 yards are several pull-outs where you can park your rig, and there are obvious signs (i.e. fire ring) that it’s meant for camping. We found a good spot and were set up very quickly since there are no hookups.

BLM sign marking the camping area

We fell in love immediately with our surroundings. It truly is a cactus forest with towering saguaro, jumping cholla, teddy bear cholla, barrel cactus, and prickly-pear, just to name a few. There are also palo verde trees. We took a sunset walk down the road in both directions and were so happy that we didn’t give up on finding this place. Besides us and and the Class A parked up at the entrance, only one other camper was in the area, a van-dweller that arrived after we did and parked further down the road. The campsites are so far apart from each other that you literally feel alone out here.

Our first BLM campsite is in a cactus forest. Beautiful!

After being in such noisy places for the previous two nights, it was such a relief to be here in the desert where it was almost totally quiet and dark. Every once it a while we would hear a car go by on the paved road, or a plane fly overhead toward the Tucson airport, but it was so peaceful, and the sunset was gorgeous, even though it was a little overcast. We waited until it was totally dark before starting the generator to run the Instant Pot, just so we could enjoy a quiet sunset.

Sunset out our front door. Glad to be back home in Arizona!

I wish I could say I got a good night’s sleep. I actually did until about 3:00 AM when the kitties decided it was time to eat–Maggie does that a lot. I held her off until about 5:15 but I was awake the entire time.

By the way, for those of you who were asking, Molly seems to be doing fine at the moment after that one bad day that she had on Sunday. We’ll continue to monitor her, but at the moment her plumbing doesn’t seem to be bothering her.

So here it is, Wednesday morning, and I’m watching the sun rise over a cactus forest in complete silence except for Andy’s snoring–he is impervious to the antics of the cats during the night. 🙂

We’ll need to drive back to Tucson today to pick up the Amazon package that finally made it to the locker about 8:00 PM last night. Have you ever used an Amazon locker? This will be our first time. It’s located at a Quik Trip store, so this should be interesting. It’s a great option for full-time RVers who need a place to have things shipped while not having a permanent home address.

Otherwise we’ll do a little hiking and just soak up the good vibes from our surroundings today. I feel like we’ve graduated from RV prep school to boondocking college!! There will be a new set of challenges to solve camping this way–conserving water so we don’t have to take the rig to a dump station as often, conserving our battery power–but being able to have our home in a place with this kind of view is definitely worth it!

If you have any questions about our RV life, be sure to leave a comment and we’ll address it in a future blog post. You can also follow us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads for updates between blog posts.

Happy holidays, everyone! Safe travels!!

House of Pies, Leaving New Mexico, A Day of Challenges

After an amazing two months in New Mexico, it was finally time to move on to lower altitudes and higher temperatures.

New Mexico cactus in our campsite

We spent yesterday (Saturday) in Deming, running errands, stocking up on groceries and doing a little more sightseeing. First we went by the post office to pick up our mail, about three weeks’ worth, that had been forwarded from our home base in Livingston, Texas. Next we stopped by the bank to use the ATM machine to get a little traveling money.

By then it was lunchtime, and after checking the local reviews on Yelp, decided to try out Elisa’s House of Pies and Restaurant which just happened to be right next to the bank. This place is a little jewel that you would hardly notice from the outside, tucked away on a little alleyway. But once we stepped inside, met the owners and tasted the food, we were blown away.

Elisa’s House of Pies and Restaurant is a jewel!

Elisa and her husband are true Southerners–he’s from South Carolina and she’s from Pascagoula, Mississippi–and their hospitality and food reflect their heritage. Andy and I both had vegetable plates, and the collard greens were definitely the star of the show. They were amazing! And then there were six different pies from which to choose–Pecan, Buttermilk, Pineapple-Coconut Chess, Millionaire, Sweet Potato and Key Lime. Andy got the Millionaire and I got the Chess, and they were both to die for, tasted just like home.

Vegetable plate with the best collards ever!

We had such a good time talking to Elisa and her husband, as well as their daughter and son-in-law who showed up to help them with their Christmas decorations. We found out that they had also done some full-time RVing when they retired from their janitorial services business in Washington State, and that they have been in Deming for about nine years. They are such a sweet couple, great cooks, and we look forward to visiting them again the next time we come through Deming.

Elisa and her husband with me and Andy. Such sweet people!

After we finished lunch we went to Walmart to do our shopping, and then we stopped for an afternoon latte at the Copper Kettle coffee shop in downtown Deming before heading back to the campsite. We spent the rest of the evening having dinner and getting things set to leave this morning.

Time for a latte at the Copper Kettle in Deming.

So yesterday was a great day.

Today, not so much.

This morning I got up early and fed the cats as usual. We’ve noticed lately that Molly seems to be having some “potty difficulties” that come and go, but this morning she was really having problems. She went to the litter box at least 8-10 times and was obviously stressed. She finally seemed to get her business done and settled down, but it seems like we need to take her in for a check up. Both the cats got thorough checkups and blood work done before we went on the road and they were pronounced healthy, but Molly might need a second opinion.

We planned to pull out of Pancho Villa State Park around 10:30, drive west to Lordsburg where we would stop for lunch in Veterans Park, and then continue to Bowie, Arizona where we would boondock for the night in a large parking lot next to the Shell station.

Our last morning in New Mexico at Pancho Villa State Park

When we were breaking camp, Andy unplugged the RV from the electrical post as usual. But I noticed that the refrigerator did not switch over to propane as it usually does when we disconnect. I let him know that something seemed wrong, and when he started troubleshooting he found out that our house batteries were completely dead.

Well, that’s not good when you’re planning to boondock.

He cranked up the RV and turned on the generator, and after a little while the batteries recharged enough for us to feel comfortable moving forward with our original plan for the day. We finished packing up, dumped the tanks, and then pulled out of the state park, headed west. It was a beautiful drive west on Highway 9 to Hachita, NM, then north on Highway 146 to I-10 where we once again turned west toward Arizona.

Driving through southern New Mexico on Highway 146.

As planned, we stopped at Veterans Park in Lordsburg, New Mexico for lunch. It’s not much of a park, just a gravel drive with some covered picnic tables, and we were the only ones there, but it was a fine place to stop for lunch. The batteries had recovered enough on the drive that the meter showed them to be fully charged. We had our usual salad and beans for lunch, and then just relaxed for awhile before moving on. But we noticed that the batteries had already started to deplete after just a little while with the lights on…not good. So we’ll definitely have to have them seen about tomorrow.

Parked for lunch in Veterans Park in Lordsburg NM

We left Lordsburg about 3:00 and arrived at our destination a little before 4:00. Our plan was to fill up our gas tanks at the Shell station in exchange for boondocking on their lot (we knew they allowed overnight parking from the listing on FreeCampsites.net). However when we pulled up to the gas pumps, we found that their regular unleaded gas was $3.69 per gallon–totally outrageous!

We checked our Gas Buddy app and found that gas was anywhere from $2.69 – $2.83 in the vicinity, so we turned around and drove back east for 12 miles to San Simon where we bought gas at a Chevron station for $2.69/gallon.

And here’s where it gets interesting.

I filled up the truck with gas, using my usual credit card. Andy pulled the RV up to a gas pump but when he went to pump the gas, he found a sign on the pump that said he had to leave his credit card with the attendant before pumping. The same sign was on all the pumps except the one I had used. Weird.

So he went inside to see the attendant, and they kept his drivers license while he pumped the gas. The RV took $105 worth of gas. He went back inside to pay for it, using his credit card (both our cards are on the same account, but the cards have different numbers, and I’m the primary on the account). I was sitting in the truck while he went inside.

A few minutes later I got a text message from the credit card company, asking me to confirm a charge for $105 at a Chevron station. I texted back to confirm, but then Andy came out of the store and told me that his card had been denied three times. What the heck!

So I went back inside with him and we tried to use my card, the same one I had just used to fill up the truck, paying at the pump. This time my card was also denied, so I wound up using a different credit card to pay for the gas.

On the way out, Andy asked them if we could park overnight in their lot, and they said sure, no problem, as long as we didn’t block traffic. Andy had decided that he had rather stay at this location instead of driving back to the station with the high prices.

So that’s where we’ve wound up boondocking for the night, at the Chevron station in San Simon, Arizona, right off I-10. They have a large lot where a lot of 18-wheelers are also parked, but we found a spot far enough away from the large trucks that it shouldn’t be an issue.

Boondocking behind the Chevron station in San Simon, AZ

As soon as we got parked, I got on the phone with Capital One and spent a half-hour trying to make sure that our cards were not compromised. They said that we got the fraud alerts because this Chevron station doesn’t use chip readers (they still swipe cards) and because of the large dollar amount, not to mention we had two simultaneous transactions on the same account (one on my card and one on his)–all these issues combined to raise red flags. We’ve been on the road for three months, we regularly fill up both vehicles at the same station on our separate cards, and we’ve never had a problem. But, long story short, our cards are fine, and Capital One now has a voice recording of me being very irritable.

After we settled in, Andy fired up the generator and I cooked a pot of vegetable soup in the Instant Pot. Hopefully we’ll be able to get a good night’s sleep before continuing our travels in the morning. Our first order of business will be to shop for new batteries for our coach, as we can’t really boondock without them. We’ll be stopping in Tucson to get that seen about tomorrow. But for tonight, we’ll just run the generator to make sure we have heat and light in the rig.

We’ll be keeping an eye on Molly to see how she’s feeling. If she still seems to be having issues in the morning, we’ll see about getting her to a veterinarian in Tucson. We also have a package from Amazon that we’ll need to pick up in Tucson on Tuesday or Wednesday, so obviously we’ll be spending some time in the area.

And that’s life on the road….some days are diamonds, some days are stone.

But it’s all an adventure, and we’re loving it.

Lunch in Mexico and Learning About Pancho Villa

We’ve spent three nights here in Pancho Villa State Park so far, and it’s already moved to the top of our list of favorite places to hang out. There is just so much history, culture and character here, and it’s going to take us awhile to fully experience it.

We got settled into our campsite on Sunday, and then on Monday morning we walked over to the office/museum to talk to the ranger or camp host about finding a local source for propane. We met Terri, one of the camp hosts, and she was a wealth of information, pointing us to Columbus Gas for propane and also answering our questions about crossing the border to Mexico. Then, to top it off, she gave us a card good for a free round of drinks at the Pink Store in Palomas. Score!!

So we unhooked Lizzy and Andy drove her to Columbus Gas to get propane–the tank was almost empty so she took 12 gallons, just over $31. This is the first propane we’ve had to buy since we’ve been on the road, but we’re using more now since we’re running the furnace a little bit each day with the colder temperatures.

After getting Lizzy hooked back up we decided to cross the border into Palomas for lunch at the Pink Store. The border crossing is just three miles from the campground, and it’s currently a big construction zone as both the US and the Mexican facilities are being upgraded. We found the parking lot in front of the Duty Free store, and from there it was a short walk right through the middle of the construction zone to cross the border into Mexico, and then a couple blocks further to get to the Pink Store.

Border crossing into Mexico at Palomas

The Pink Store is actually a restaurant and a series of shops that sell all sorts of things from souvenirs and trinkets to furniture and artwork. The name of the restaurant is Tacos Hacienda Palomas, but everyone just refers to it as the Pink Store.

Andy outside one of the shops at the Pink Store

The restaurant was very colorful and lively, with a three-piece mariachi band that took requests (and tips). The bass player also performed some solo songs on the keyboard. They had some beautiful harmonies and were accomplished instrumentalists as well. Here’s a short clip of the song they sang at our table:

We each ordered margaritas, and we had a cheese quesadilla for an appetizer. For entrees, Andy had the cheese enchiladas, and I had the chicken tacos (first time I’ve had chicken in over five years, and it will probably be at least that long before I have it again.) For dessert, we split a slice of flan. All the food was very good–not the best we’ve ever had but the unique experience of being so close to the border made it memorable. And of course, there were a lot of other gringos from the USA doing the same thing we were doing.

After finishing lunch we then walked a couple of blocks west to  Panaderia La Favorita, a local bakery. We were blown away by the variety of freshly baked pastries and breads they had for sale, and enjoyed talking to the owner about his recipes. We walked away with five large pastries for the grand sum of $1.80.

Just a few of the pastries available for sale

Monday night we spent several hours hanging out at our next-door neighbor’s campfire. We met Gary when we first arrived in camp when we heard him playing his lute (similar to a guitar) and singing. Turns out he’s a retired dean of music from Florida School of the Arts, and he’s a very accomplished musician. After having a heart attack, he decided not to waste any more time waiting to “retire”, so he bought a cargo trailer and built it out as a camper/toy hauler. He pulls it behind his pickup truck, and it contains his living space as well as his motorcycle. We had some wonderful conversation around the campfire, and he’s going to join us for Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday since he’s also a vegetarian!

Yesterday (Tuesday) we both took long walks to get some exercise, then Andy prepared one of his famous gigantic chopped salads. Of course, we didn’t find out about the big e coli scare with romaine until after we had already eaten lunch. So if we wind up at the local urgent care facility in the next few days, we’ll know why.

After lunch we spent a couple of hours touring the museum here in the state park. Of course, we had heard of Pancho Villa and knew that the US military had tried to track him down, but we didn’t know the details. We learned that on March 9, 1916 Villa’s forces launched an early morning raid into the town of Columbus and the adjoining Camp Furlong (where the park is currently located). Several townspeople and soldiers were killed, along with some of Villa’s men, and part of the town was burned.

Vehicle with bullet holes, driven by family trying to escape from Villa’s raid

The result of the raid was that General Pershing put together a punitive response force to track down Villa. About 10,000 troops were brought into the area and went south into Mexico in an unsuccessful attempt to bring Villa to justice. Interestingly, this was the first time that motorized vehicles were used to replace horses for the military, and the first military airfield was established here to launch reconnaissance flights over Mexico.

One reason I’m so interested in this story comes from my childhood. We grew up living next door to Mr. Clyde and Mrs. Lela Green on Dry Creek in north Mississippi. Mr. Clyde was quite a character and had a lot of tales to tell, but he always talked about how he had ridden into Mexico to chase Pancho Villa as a young man. One of the park museum exhibits is a collection of different state medals from the men who served here, and there is a Mississippi Magnolia medal in the collection. There is another museum here in town that we are told has rosters with names of some of the soldiers who were stationed here for the expedition, and we’re going to see if we can find Mr. Clyde’s name on any of the lists. Wouldn’t that be cool if we could!

Last night the sunset was especially beautiful, so I got my “real” camera out of the bag, set it up on the tripod, and shot a bunch of bracketed photos to put together into HDR images. Hadn’t done that in awhile, so it was fun to sharpen up some rusty skills.

HDR image from last night’s sunset. No photo can do it justice.

Today we are hanging out in the Columbus Village Library, using the wi-fi and getting our devices updated. A couple of the locals stopped by our table to greet us, offer us coffee and tea, and give us the scoop on the local area. Everyone here is so friendly and knowledgeable, we can’t help but be drawn in to the folklore and tradition that just oozes from this place.

Tomorrow, of course, is Thanksgiving, and I’ll be preparing my “beefy” seitan pot roast with potatoes, carrots and onions, which we’ll be sharing with Gary. And if for some reason, the meal doesn’t work out, a local cafe is having a Thanksgiving buffet for $12 and it sounds like most of the people in the campground are probably planning to eat there, from the conversation we’ve overheard here in the library.

So that’s what’s going on with us at the moment. We’re still loving New Mexico, and the weather is still moderate enough that we don’t feel any great impulse to move to Arizona yet. That time will come, but for now we’re very happy where we are.

We hope you all have a happy, healthy Thanksgiving and holiday season!

Be sure to follow us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads as well to keep up with us between blog posts.

 

 

Moving Day – Change of Plans

As we told you in our last post, yesterday (Sunday) was moving day because we had hit our 14-day limit at Leasburg Dam State Park in Radium Springs, NM. We had prepped the RV for boondocking, with plans to start heading west toward Arizona.

Well, the great thing about this lifestyle is that you can change plans on a dime, and do something completely different. The weather forecast here in New Mexico was calling for warmer temperatures over the next week or two, and it seemed a shame to leave just when the weather was going to be so perfect. And we also want to get as much value out of our annual camping pass as we possibly can.

We checked the website for New Mexico State Parks, looking for one with good weather that was between us and Arizona, and we found Pancho Villa State Park, right on the US/Mexico border in Columbus, NM. I checked the reservation website and there were no campsites available to reserve, but NM State Parks always set aside at least half their campsites as first come first serve, so we decided to take a chance on it. Since it was Sunday, we knew a lot of weekend campers would be pulling out, but the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday was a wildcard that could bring more vacationers into the campgrounds.

We left Leasburg Dam SP about 12:30 PM after dumping the tanks. Our propane meter was showing that we were down to about 1/3 full, so we planned to drive north first to go through Hatch to get propane. Unfortunately, since it was Sunday, the propane place was closed. We thought we might find another place to fill up on the way, but we never did.

NOTE TO SELF: Fill up the propane tanks on a weekday.

Anyway, we drove south through Deming, NM, down to Columbus to the Pancho Villa State Park, arriving about 2:45 PM and found plenty of campsites available. We picked site #39 that’s on the south side of the campground on the outermost loop, so there’s no one on the back side of our campsite. Our dinette window faces west so we can watch the sunset over the desert mountains. The site has water and electricity (no sewer), and with our annual pass it’s $4/night. There is a dump station nearby in the park that we can use every 4-5 days as needed. Their bathroom and shower facilities are very nice and clean, and the park looks well-maintained. We have decent Verizon service, fluctuating between 2 and 3 bars of LTE.

Our new home – Site #39 at Pancho Villa State Park

After getting set up, we walked around the campground to get familiar with our surroundings. This park is located on the site of Camp Furlong, an old army site used during the pursuit of Pancho Villa in the early 1900’s. There’s a museum here in the park that we will explore while we’re here.

Brief overview of the park’s history

Also, the park is located about 3 miles from the US/Mexico border, and there’s a border crossing where you can walk across into the Mexican town of Puerto Palomas. We’ll definitely be crossing the border while we’re here to enjoy lunch and margaritas at the Pink Store!

I just can’t describe how happy we both are with this lifestyle so far. It’s so freeing to be able to just unhook your electric plug and your water hose and then drive a few miles to a new place to live for awhile. Every time we change locations, there’s something new to see and new people to meet (Hi, Richard!!). We’re able to dive into the history of our country, and challenge our preconceptions and prejudices by actually exploring places for ourselves. Additionally, I’m learning to be less attached to plans and schedules, and more relaxed about living in the moment.

Standing at the top of Cootes Hill in Pancho Villa SP

We just completed our 12th week living fulltime in Lizzy, after selling our house and almost everything we owned.

Regrets?

None!

So, we paid for two nights when we got here yesterday, just to give ourselves time to make sure this is where we wanted to stay for awhile. But as of this morning, it looks like we’ll be here for the full 14 days before we move on. There’s so much to explore in this area, so we have no chance of being bored.

We love New Mexico!!

Safe travels, everyone! And remember, if you have questions about our fulltime lifestyle or places we’re visiting, be sure to put them in the comments, and we’ll answer them in a future blog post!

BONUS

We’ve gotten questions from some readers, asking what we eat on the road. I’ve added a new page to the blog called “What We Eat“. It talks about our plant-based diet and gives you an idea of how we handle food prep and eating healthy on the road. You can find the link in the blog menu, and I’ll be updating that page as we find new recipes or food ideas on the road. Enjoy!

Exploring Las Cruces & Moving On

Our time in New Mexico is rapidly drawing to a close, and as much as I love Arizona, I have to say that New Mexico has stolen my heart. We will definitely be back when the weather warms up, especially since we have the annual pass to the state parks. But for now, it’s time to move on to lower elevations and warmer nights. We will spend one more night here in Leasburg Dam State Park before pulling out tomorrow, probably just after noon. We’ve met some wonderful people here, and we will be sad to leave!

We did some exploring in the Las Cruces area on Wednesday. Instead of taking I-25 from the park, we decided to travel the back roads, driving south on Doña Ana road which runs parallel to the interstate. This road took us by the cotton fields and pecan orchards which are so prevalent along the Rio Grande river in this area, and gave us a much closer view of everyday rural life in this area.

Cotton ready for harvest

St. Mary’s at Hill Anglican Church, founded in 1920

When we got into Las Cruces we first went to the local art-and-farmers market, which is held every Wednesday and Saturday on the Plaza. According to TripAdvisor.com, there are more than 300 vendors at the market. However, when we got there we found out that the really big crowds are there on Saturdays, and only a select few vendors come in on Wednesdays. We still enjoyed browsing the booths, talking to the vendors, and snacking on some delicious street tacos featuring those world-famous Hatch chilies.

Vendors on the plaza at the Wednesday market

Beautiful design of inlaid stone, with the Christmas tree in the background

Chile Ristras for sale at the market

Jake the Snake tacos from the Luchador food truck – amazing!

The next stop on our tour was the historic town of Mesilla, which has been swallowed up and surrounded by Las Cruces but still retains much of the original architecture and character from its origins. Mesilla’s history is tied to Billy the Kid, much as Tupelo’s history is tied to Elvis. In fact, the building that once housed the Doña Ana County Courthouse where Billy was tried and sentenced to hang is still standing. Unfortunately, instead of preserving its original interior, it is now a pretty tacky trinket shop, even though it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The old Doña Ana Courthouse where Billy the Kid was sentence to hang

The town is arranged around a central plaza which is surrounded by shops, restaurants, and the Basilica of San Albino, a beautiful Catholic church which was established in 1851 by order of the Mexican government. The present building was constructed in 1906, replacing the original adobe structure.

Basilica of San Albino on the Plaza in Mesilla NM

El Patio Cantina, operated continuously since 1932. although the adobe walls date back to at least 1858.

We ate lunch at one of the best Mexican restaurants in the Southwest, La Posta de Mesilla, located just off the Plaza in another original historic adobe building. Actually the restaurant started in one small adobe building, but as its popularity and customer base grew, the owners bought the adjoining adobe buildings, knocked out the walls, and now it’s a huge place with multiple rooms, each decorated differently. They already had their Christmas decorations up in all the rooms, so it was even more colorful. I had the Chile-Rita and Andy had a mango margarita. I ordered the sour cream enchiladas (served pancake style topped with a fried egg), and Andy had a combination plate that featured a chile relleno. The food was absolutely delicious, but it was way more than I could eat. We highly recommend this place if you’re ever in Las Cruces!

One of the entrances to La Posta de Mesilla Restaurant and Cantina

Sour cream enchiladas and the Chile-Rita

We were too full to order dessert, but that didn’t stop us from each purchasing a chocolate treat from the Chocolate Lady shop just down the street as we continued our tour. We also spent quite a bit of time in a shop called Silver Assets, where Andy found a kindred soul to discuss turquoise and silver jewelry-making for almost an hour.

We definitely recommend spending some time in Mesilla if you’re ever in the Las Cruces area. We’ll be back for sure!

Yesterday (Friday) was a day for chores. We dumped the tanks in the morning, and then I spent about an hour giving the rig a thorough cleaning inside. I love having such a small home–takes no time at all to finish my housework! Today we’ll be going back into Las Cruces to stock up on groceries and drinking water and get gas for the truck.

Last night we sat down with the laptop and our Arizona atlas and started planning where we want to head next. Our goal is to keep our expenses as low as possible, within reason, so we’re going to be doing a lot more boondocking or dry-camping, which means no hookups. Unfortunately Arizona doesn’t have the same awesome deal on their state park annual passes that New Mexico has, but they do have a lot more public land for boondocking.

We don’t want to travel more than two or three hours at a time, so our first stop will actually still be in New Mexico in a town called Lordsburg. They have free camping at their Veterans Park, so we’ll overnight there on Sunday night. On Monday we plan to head to some BLM land north of Tucson near Eloy. There’s a 14-day limit on BLM land, but I doubt we’ll stay the entire 14 days in that location. We’ll still need to dump our tanks every 4-5 days which means we’ll have to move the RV anyway. If we really like our campsite, we can return to it for up to 14 days, but if not we’ll just move on.

We’ve also scouted out some sites where we can stay in the Phoenix/Glendale area. We’re looking forward to visiting some of our old haunts and seeing some old friends while we’re passing through.

What about the holidays?

We’ll most likely be spending Thanksgiving parked in the desert on BLM land. We have a delicious meal planned, and will be giving thanks for the lifestyle that we are able to enjoy. Not sure at this point where we’ll be for Christmas, but wherever it is, we’ll be celebrating!

So be sure to subscribe to the blog to stay up to date on our travels. You can also find us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads to see what we’re up to between blog posts.

Safe travels, everyone!

Winter Is Coming So Why Aren’t We Moving?

So far our return visit to Leasburg Dam State Park has been nice. The afternoon temperatures have been in the low-to-mid 70s with clear blue skies and very low humidity. It gets pretty windy starting about lunchtime and stays that way until a couple of hours after sundown, but there’s not a lot of dust blowing around, so it’s okay.

I go hiking every day on the trails here in the park which lead down to the Rio Grande river and then to an overlook near the Leasburg Dam. Since we were here last month, a flock of ducks has moved in on the river, presumably on their migration route. We’ve also seen rabbits and roadrunners in our campsite.

On Wednesday we drove into Las Cruces to do some grocery shopping. We ate lunch at Chipotle, then we hit Walmart and Sprouts. While at Walmart we picked up a small runner rug for the RV to help insulate the floor a little bit on those cold mornings (keep reading to find out why!). After we finished shopping, we stopped at Starbucks to treat ourselves to some coffee and some wi-fi.

Wednesday night we finally had a campfire after more than two months on the road. We had bought a bag of marshmallows weeks ago and it had been taking up space in our pantry bin, so I was glad to finally get to open it. We like campfires but neither of us like the smell that gets into our clothes from the smoke. We had to close all the windows on the RV because the smoke was being drawn inside the rig. But it was still a nice touch of “atmosphere” for the campsite.

Our first campfire marshmallows since hitting the road

While we enjoyed the campfire, I set up my GoPro on a tripod in a nearby empty campsite and programmed it to record a timelapse of the stars. I’m still learning how to do timelapses with this camera, especially the night lapses of the stars. I attached a power stick to the camera so the battery would last longer. I started shooting at 6:45 PM, and when I went to retrieve the camera at about 12:30 AM, there was about 7% battery remaining. If you know anything about shooting timelapse at night, you’ll understand when I say that 5 hours and 45 minutes of shooting yielded a video that lasts just over 21 seconds. It didn’t turn out quite as well as I hoped it would but it’s okay. Here’s a look at the raw, unedited version–you have to watch it in full screen view on a larger screen to really see the stars.

Yesterday (Thursday) we drove to Hatch to pick up our mail which had been forwarded from our mail service in Livingston, Texas. Since Hatch is the chili capital of the world, we just had to make a quick stop at one of the local chili roasters to check out their wares. We got a jar of homemade salsa, and jar of pickled peppers, and a small bag of dried mango coated with chili spice (not made locally). We enjoyed chatting with the local folks while we were there–well worth the stop!

Checking out the goods at Hot Damn Chile in Hatch, NM

So life is pretty normal, just enjoying the sunshine and the surroundings.

But things are about to change.

Our plan has always been to follow the weather, chasing 70° as they say. But sometimes life throws you a curveball.

Andy has a several prescriptions that he takes, one of which he orders through Humana’s mail order service so he can get a 90-day supply at a time. When it came time to reorder, he went to their website and clicked on the button that said something like “one-click order”. He said he thought it would take him to a form he could fill out to give them an address–guess he’s not familiar with “one-click” ordering. And unfortunately, he had never given them our new Livingston address.

So as soon as he placed the order, he got confirmation that the prescription would be shipped, but it was going to our old address in Tupelo.

That wasn’t good.

He called Humana to see if he could get the address changed for the shipment. Well, of course that led to a two-hour conversation. Since the new address is in Texas, that means he’s in a different plan market, so they had to set him up on a new Medicare Part D plan. The monthly premium didn’t change, it just took a lot of time on the phone. At the end of the conversation, he asked them if they could change the address on the outgoing shipment, and they assured him that they would.

Yeah……right.

The shipment went to Tupelo first, and then it was forwarded to our address in Livingston. That took over a week. Once it got to Livingston, we had to put in a request to have it forwarded to the local post office here in Radium Springs, NM, general delivery. It was mailed out on Wednesday, and is expected to arrive here in Radium Springs sometime next Tuesday.

Fortunately he has plenty of medication to last until the new shipment arrives. But it does present us with a chilly dilemma.

Weather forecast is chilly!

There’s a cold front moving this way and the temperatures are going to drop significantly over the weekend. Nighttime temperatures will be well below freezing on Monday and Tuesday. Under normal circumstances, we would be pulling up stakes today and moving toward Arizona, but we need to stick around here and wait for Andy’s prescription to arrive.

We’ve never camped in the RV in temperatures below freezing, but we’re making preparations. The rig does have an onboard propane furnace. Since we’re hooked up to electricity here, we’ll also be using our electric heater. Yesterday, we unpacked some of our winter clothes from the storage bins in the Tacoma, and we’ve got plenty of blankets in the rig.

At night, we’ll unhook the water hose from the outside faucet and drain it so it doesn’t freeze and burst. We’ll use our onboard water tank instead. The rig also has tank heaters that should keep the black and gray tanks from freezing up overnight.

We’ll also see about hanging an extra blanket from the over-cab storage platform to block off the cab portion of the RV since a lot of cold air comes in that way.

Ironically, the temperatures are supposed to go back up into the 60’s once we get past Tuesday, so if we don’t freeze to death over the weekend, we may wind up staying here for the full two weeks, through the following Saturday night. The price is right ($4/night) and we save fuel by not moving, but that savings can be wiped out if we’re using a lot of propane to run the furnace.

We shall see!

Anyway, life is good! We’re happy, healthy and enjoying every day to the fullest!