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!!

Turning 60 in Albuquerque and Santa Fe NM

When we first began talking seriously about becoming full-time RVers, I set a couple of personal goals. I wanted to be on the road full-time by the time I reached 60, and I wanted to spend my 60th birthday in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Both of those goals were accomplished as of Wednesday!

We left the Leasburg Dam State Park on Tuesday morning around 10:30 after stopping to dump the tanks. We drove north on I-25 toward Albuquerque, stopping for lunch at a rest stop near Fort Craig. The rest stop itself wasn’t much to look at, but it just happened to be near a historic site on the El Camino Real trail (for my friends in Mississippi, the El Camino Real is similar to the old historic Natchez Trace). There was a huge metal and glass sculpture standing on a small hill out in the desert, so in spite of the cold wind, I just had to hike out to see it.

Camino de Sueños (Road of Dreams) by Greg E. Reiche, 2005

The sculpture is made of metal and turquoise-colored glass. Based on its orientation, I would assume that both the sunrise and the sunset would shine through the glass, giving it a beautiful glow. Unfortunately we were there in the middle of an overcast day, so I have no way of verifying that.

We arrived at our destination, Enchanted Trails RV Park and Trading Post in Albuquerque, just after 4:00 PM. It was cold, overcast and windy, and the site wasn’t exactly level, but we got set up as quickly as possible and hunkered down inside the RV.  We turned on our little electric space heater (why run our propane furnace when we’re already paying for electricity, right?), and we were able to stay toasty warm.

On Wednesday, I hit the big 6-0, and we made a day-trip to Santa Fe to celebrate. Our birthday celebrations tend to be pretty low-key by most standards–I was just happy to get to view the beautiful scenery on the hour-long drive north.

Our first stop in Santa Fe was lunch at a vegetarian restaurant that I found on the Happy Cow app. It’s called Annapurna’s World Vegetarian Cafe, and it specializes in South Indian vegetarian and vegan dishes, along with vegan desserts. It’s located in a little strip center and doesn’t look like much from the outside, but this place was packed for lunch.

Annapurna’s World Vegetarian Cafe in Santa Fe, NM

The inside of the cafe was very colorful and comfortable, as well as being a great place for people-watching. Their clientele is very diverse and obviously very loyal, so we saw some interesting characters while we dined there.

Inside Annapurna’s World Vegetarian Cafe in Santa Fe, NM, just before the crowd arrived

I had a sampler platter of Indian dishes for lunch that was very tasty. Andy had the Mediterranean platter that included hummus and falafel, and declared it was some of the best he had ever tasted. For dessert, we split a slice of their homemade vegan coconut pie–this was not a cream pie, it was pure coconut and was delicious!

Vegan coconut pie at Annapurna’s

After lunch we drove into Old Town Santa Fe to do a little exploring and sight-seeing. Of course we visited the Palace of Governors where the Native Americans sell their jewelry on the sidewalk. Our first visit here was about 20 years ago when Andy was just getting started with his silversmithing hobby, and it was one of the sources of his inspiration. Now 20 years later, he was able to discuss techniques and materials with the artists as we admired their handiwork.

Andy (@silverlap) admiring a heavy copper bracelet with the artist

We walked around downtown a little longer, visiting the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi and more of the little shops. NOTE #1: Living in a small RV helps remove the temptation to spend money on needless “stuff” because there’s nowhere to put it!

Inside the Cathedral of St. Francis

For our final stop, we went to Starbucks so I could get my free birthday drink, and also  so that we could use their wi-fi to run back-ups on our iPhones and download updates to some of the software on my laptop. Well, that didn’t work out so well. We used the Starbucks app to find the nearest location, but when we arrived there we found that it only had outdoor seating. Nice concept, but it was very cool and windy, so we decided to try another location.

We got to the second location which was right back downtown where we had started from. When we went to the counter to order, we were told that they don’t honor the Starbucks rewards because they aren’t a regular licensed Starbucks, but are more like the Starbucks in the Barnes and Nobles stores. We went ahead and ordered anyway, but I missed out on my free drink. And their wi-fi was pitifully slow, so we were there for a couple of hours before all my downloads finished. NOTE #2: Living on the road makes you really appreciate high-speed internet, if you can find it.

But I really enjoyed my day in Santa Fe, especially getting to chat with Mom and Dad by phone while at Starbucks.

Yesterday (Thursday) was busy also, but it was mostly errands and chores. After a late breakfast, we did three loads of laundry here at the RV park. While the clothes were tumbling, I enjoyed checking out the vintage trailers and Hudson automobiles that they have on-site here at the RV Park. These trailers are actually available for rent here at the park, and are so cute.

Vintage trailers and Hudson automobiles here at Enchanted Trails RV Park

After lunch we drove in to Albuquerque, and first visited the post office to pick up our first packet of forwarded mail from our Escapees mail service in Livingston, Texas. It was mostly junk mail, but it did include our absentee ballots for the upcoming election, so we’ll be voting in the next couple of days. NOTE #3: It’s easy to get your mail on the road if you have a good mail forwarding service.

Main post office in Albuquerque

After picking up our mail we went to Walmart for grocery shopping, and then to Costco for a few other things, primarily the cats’ dry food. Our last stop was at Camping World to get an extra set of leveling blocks and a couple of maintenance items for Lizzy.  After returning to the rig and putting the groceries away, Andy whipped up one of his huge chopped salads to last us for the next few days. We ate leftovers for dinner and then I turned in about 7:30–I was so tired! NOTE #4–You do tend to get tired more easily at higher altitudes when you’re used to living near sea level.

So today, we’ll be leaving Albuquerque and heading back south. Our destination today is Percha Dam State Park where we have reservations for two nights. I doubt we’ll stay there any longer than that, as we’re leaning toward trying to get into one of the other state parks in the area that have nicer facilities, where we can hopefully snag a first-come, first-served spot near the water. We’ll see how that goes.

Life is good, we’re happy and healthy, and we’re loving New Mexico.

Be sure to follow us on Instagram at Instagram/JustCallUsNomads for updates between our blog posts!

Settling In to Full Time RV Life

It’s been just over six weeks since we moved into our RV, Lizzy, full time after selling our house and almost all our possessions. Those six weeks have not been without challenges, but we’re starting to get into a groove now as we settle into our new lifestyle.

The weather here in New Mexico has been interesting. We arrived just at the tail end of a warm spell, so the first few days we used the air conditioner. Then on Sunday we had a severe thunderstorm roll through with high winds and heavy rain. We got an emergency alert on our phones that indicated we could also see hail, but fortunately we were spared from that. And after the storm ended, we were treated to a beautiful double rainbow!

Double rainbow after the storm

Yesterday was overcast and drizzly, and this morning we woke to a dense fog. But by 10:00, the fog lifted and the beautiful blue skies have returned. With the rainy front that moved through, the temperatures have cooled considerably, and we haven’t used the air conditioner in several days, relying on the breeze only.

Here’s a little timelapse that I shot from the roof of Lizzy this morning as the fog lifted.

Speaking of breeze, Andy was able to install two vent covers on the roof just before the storm hit on Sunday. The covers allow us to keep the vents open and the fan running even when it’s raining so we don’t have to close everything up and run the air conditioner. The vents do have original covers that tilt up, but those can get damaged or even ripped off in a high wind, so these new covers that we installed will protect the original tilted cover from the wind. Confusing, I know….

Installing covers over our vents and fan

On Saturday we did some hiking on some of the trails here in the park that meander down along the Rio Grande River and over to the Leasburg Dam. The trail along the river was nice and serene, but the dam was a bit of a disappointment. There really isn’t any water to speak of behind the dam, at least on the day we were there. The dam was built in 1908 to divert water from the Rio Grande into the surrounding agricultural fields of the Upper Masilla Valley. It’s just over 11 feet high, and was the first dam completed on the Rio Grande Project by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (it was originally 10 feet high but was raised by 1.25 feet in 1919).

Hiking along the Rio Grande river on the Mogollon Trail

Rio Grande River below Leasburg Dam

Yesterday (Monday) was an errands day. The first order of business was to locate some repair parts for the toilet, which appears to have a slow leak. Andy tried for over an hour to talk to someone by telephone in the parts department at Camping World in Anthony, Texas to see if they had the parts in stock. They took his number and said they would call back, but after waiting for a half hour we decided to just make the 45 minute drive and ask them in person.

When we got there, they only had one guy working in the parts department, and he was slammed. When we finally got to the front of the line, he was able to identify the parts we needed, but then told us they were out of stock. He was kind enough to call another RV dealer just across the freeway, and they said they could have the part by the next day. But since we didn’t want to make another trip to Anthony, we just decided to order it from Amazon and have it shipped to us here in Radium Springs. Free shipping, and it will be here tomorrow (Wednesday).

Retailers, this is why Amazon is winning.

After we left Camping World, we headed back north to Las Cruces for the rest of our errands. First we had lunch at Chipotle (our original plan was to eat at a local Mexican restaurant that was supposed to be really good, but they were closed for some reason). Then we tried to go by the bank, but they were closed for Columbus Day.

Next stop was Home Depot so we could pick up some plumber’s grease for the toilet repair. From there we went to Walmart for groceries and supplies (cat treats!!). And our last stop was Sprouts for some good fresh greens, since Walmart didn’t have any decent romaine or kale. After all that, we headed home to the RV, put up the groceries and enjoyed the rest of our evening. Oh, have I mentioned that we have developed a serious addiction to those 50¢ pies at Walmart??

Most of our grocery haul.

Today we’ll need to unhook Lizzy and drive her over to the dump station here in the park to dump the tanks. We’re using the campground showers instead of the one in the RV so we can go longer between dumping, and there are also vault toilets close by that we can use to extend the time between dumps. It’s a bit of a hassle to have to unhook and move Lizzy, but it’s worth it to have our own kitchen and bathroom facilities available.

So I know it sounds kind of boring, but we are not on vacation. We are just living our normal everyday lives, just like people in sticks and bricks houses. But our view from our windows is amazing, and when we get tired of it, we’ll just move. We just paid for five more nights here at $4/night, and will probably tack on a few more days after that.

Plans for the next few days include toilet repairs and some sightseeing, so stay tuned! Be sure to follow us on Instagram as well for more of a real-time look at what we’re up to!