Goodbye to the Forest, Hello New Mexico

Currently at Bluewater Lake State Park near Prewitt, New Mexico:

The time finally came to say goodbye to our summertime forest home in the Coconino National Forest near Flagstaff, Arizona. Altogether, we spent sixty-six days in that location, and we were both rather sad to leave it behind. But some things had changed since we first got there that made us a little more anxious to move on.

When we first arrived there in May, there was still snow on the peaks above us, and the temperatures were very mild during the day, even cold at night. There had been plenty of rain and snow over the winter and spring, so everything was green and lush. On our very first hike up the road we saw a whole herd of deer cross the road ahead of us. We loved it immediately!

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

As the weeks went on, it got warmer during the daytime, so we repositioned the rig between some pine trees so that it got shade in the afternoon. The sun began to dry out the soil around us, and it soon became extremely dusty. Since we were parked fairly close to the road (gravel), we got a LOT of dust from traffic going by, especially on the weekends when people riding four-wheelers and dirt bikes zoomed by.

I grew to love hiking in the forest, and almost every time I did I would see at least one deer, and usually more than one. Some may have been elk, it was hard to tell from a distance. We saw a coyote, a skunk, lots of squirrels and chipmunks, and a few rabbits. The flowers that bloomed throughout the spring and early summer were stunning, blanketing the meadows and forest floor with the colors of the rainbow.

Springtime blossoms in the Coconino National Forest

As August rolled in, it was getting warmer and more dusty, as the usual monsoon rains failed to materialize. The temperatures were still tolerable to where it was even cool enough in the morning to run the furnace for a little bit to warm up the rig. About the second week in August, the local ranchers released a herd of cattle into the forest for summer grazing. They didn’t bother us too much around the rig, in fact we were very entertained by them. But often times I would encounter groups of them standing on the trail that I was hiking, and it was somewhat intimidating to have to walk past those mama cows who were determined to protect their calves standing beside them. They would snort loudly and stare at me as if daring me to come any closer. I would just try to walk quietly without making any sudden moves, all the while looking for the nearest tree in case I needed to put something substantial between me and a cow.

Our friendly neighborhood cows, as long as you don’t get too close to the little ones

So the cows kind of disturbed the peacefulness of my hikes, but nothing like what happened on August 13. Unknown to me, deer hunting season (archery) opened that morning. While on my hike, I noticed there were a lot more tent campers in the woods, as well as four-wheelers. But when I came across some people actually butchering a deer beside the trail, that just ruined any hiking for me from that point forward. For the next few weeks there was so much activity around us between the hunters and the cows, and with all the dust being stirred up, we just decided it was time to move on.

We absolutely loved most of our time this summer, and are already planning to return to that area, but next year we’ll know to anticipate the cows and the hunters, so we can move on a little earlier. And we will miss Flagstaff–I’ve always said that I’d like to live there someday, and this summer just reinforced that. It’s a wonderful small city with a great vibe.

So we decided to start moving east and return to New Mexico, where we still have a couple months left on our annual pass for the State Parks. I did some research to find a park at about the same altitude as Flagstaff that had the amenities that we wanted, namely electric hookups and a dump station. I came across Bluewater Lake State Park, about 40 miles east of Gallup off I-40. We were only able to reserve a site for three nights since all the reservable sites are booked for the weekends, but we were fine with that since we were unfamiliar with the park and didn’t want to lock ourselves in to a long reservation at a place that we might not like.

On Tuesday morning we loaded up the solar panels and the patio mat, double-checked the fluids and tire pressure, and then hit the road. We stopped in Flagstaff to top off the propane, fuel up the vehicles and take the Tacoma through the car wash (it was filthy!). Then we got on I-40 and headed east.

Travel Day! Loading up the solar panels in the truck.

It was a beautiful day for a drive, and the scenery through the Painted Desert was amazing. We stopped for lunch near Holbrook, Arizona, pulling in to a TA truck stop where we fired up the generator and turned on the air conditioner. We enjoyed Andy’s famous chopped salad for lunch, and let the kitties have a little break from the ride. After about an hour we got back on the road. We ran into a few little sprinkles after crossing into New Mexico, but nothing major.

Driving on I-40 east from Arizona to New Mexico

We stopped once more in Gallup to top off the tanks, and then rolled into the state park sometime around 4PM (we lost an hour when we left Arizona since they don’t observe daylight savings time). On the way into the park, Andy dumped the tanks at their dump station (VERY nice), and also filled up the fresh water tank. Then we located our campsite, #1 on the Upper Electric Loop, and got set up.

When I was doing my research to find our next campsite, one of the things that was mentioned in all the reviews of this park was that there are wild horses that roam through here. And sure enough, as soon as we got out of the rig, we spotted a group of four horses, three adults and a colt, grazing in the clearing near our rig. We’ve seen them several times, usually in the cooler parts of the day, and they are magnificent. They won’t let you touch them, but they’re not very spooked by people either.

Some of the wild horses that make their home in Bluewater Lake State Park

One of the reasons I wanted to be somewhere with electricity and water was so I could give the rig a good cleaning after all the dust we collected. I got started on that yesterday by totally emptying out our attic (the space over the cab) where we store our food, linens, supplies, photography equipment, fireproof safe, etc. There is a vent right over the attic for air flow, and over the summer lots of dust came in that way and coated everything, no matter how I tried to keep up with it. Yesterday, I pulled everything down, cleaned everything and then put it back, including the screen over the vent. Big task, but glad it’s done.

I took several walks yesterday to explore the area, and found that the lake is bigger than I thought. The water definitely looked blue from the reflection of the sky, and the surrounding mountains were a beautiful backdrop. I found the dam that is responsible for the creation of the lake, and saw where the overflow from the dam is released into the nearby canyon forming a small river that draws birds and wildlife. Here’s a small video that I put together from my hike that shows all of the above:

Nothing more fun than defrosting the freezer first thing in the morning

By this time we had decided that three nights here was not going to be enough. With all the cleaning chores, I haven’t had as much time as I’d like to explore the area. The park is very quiet (so far) and there are a lot of first come first serve sites available. We decided that if one of those with electricity opened up, we would grab it, even though we still have one more night on our reservation.

And lo and behold, this morning, several of the first come first serve sites opened up, including one that we had had our eyes on from the start. While I was busy with my chores, Andy was flapping his jaws with some of the other guys in the park, so he was down there when the site opened up. He came back home and drove the truck down there to hold it for us until we could move the rig, which took about fifteen minutes.

Our new site has a little more shade, which is nice. It’s a little closer to our neighbors, but that’s usually only an issue on the weekends. We’re close to the showers and the flush toilets (there are a lot of vault toilets throughout the park). We went ahead and paid for five nights in this spot, including tonight, which means we paid twice since we still had the first spot reserved. But we’re only paying $4 per night on our annual pass, which covers the electricity, so it’s no big deal. Unless something changes, we’ll probably wind up staying here the maximum time allowed, 14 days.

Our new site (#11) is first come first served with electricity and a little shade

There are some interesting-looking hiking trails here in the park that I want to explore, and there are several geocaches that I want to look for. The nearest town with a Walmart is Grants, which is about 25 miles away. That means we won’t be tempted to eat out or go shopping very much which should help offset some of the cost of fuel from driving this month. I’m sure we’ll do some sight-seeing outside the park while we’re in the area.

So that’s what we’re up to at the moment! We’re definitely enjoying having access to electricity, nice showers (so we don’t have to remove the litter box from the shower in our rig), and new scenery. Stay tuned for more adventures!

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

Lava River Cave Spelunking, Passport Renewal, Dodging Bullets on RV Maintenance

From the Coconino National Forest near Flagstaff, Arizona:

Well, we’ve had quite the eventful week, full of adventures, chores and unexpected challenges with Lizzy (our RV). Let’s recap:

On Tuesday we decided to explore one of the local geological features, the Lava River Cave in the Coconino National Forest just a few miles from where we’re staying. This cave is a lava tube formed about 600,000 years ago during a time of volcanic activity in this area. The tube cave is about 3/4-mile long from the entrance to the underground dead end. We read a lot of online reviews about what to expect, so we were equipped with headlamps, extra flashlights, gloves, closed-toe boots, and jackets (the temperature in the cave this time of year is between 40°-50°).

Entrance to the Lava River Cave in the Coconino National Forest near Flagstaff, AZ

The entrance to the cave was a challenge right off the bat, as you have to climb down a big pile of boulders and rocks that at one time comprised the ceiling of the tube. You’re basically just climbing down into a hole in the ground. Once you get to the bottom of the rock pile, it becomes horizontal instead of vertical–at that point, you just start scrambling over rocks to move into the cave. Because the inside of the cave is so cool, condensation drips from the roof in some places, causing the rocks that you’re walking on to become extra slippery, especially since some of them were loose and most of them were tilted one way or another.

Even though I was wearing hiking boots, I found that the soles did not provide a great amount of traction on the wet surfaces, so I found myself doing a duck-walk or crab-crawl most of the time, using my hands to help keep my balance. It wasn’t long before my quads and knees were exhausted. Andy’s boots seemed to work better than mine did, as he was able to walk upright most of the time.

The rockpile we had to scramble over and the low ceiling at the beginning of the cave.

This is a totally undeveloped cave–in other words, there are no lights, no safety rails, no personnel on site, no instructions or directional marking of any kind (except for a little graffiti that we found), and no cellphone service underground. We met a group of sixth graders on a field trip, coming out as we were going in, and of course they seemed totally confident about clambering over the rocks. We met a couple more individuals, older guys who were solo hiking, and several couples/pairs of hikers.

Our original intention was to hike all the way to the end and back. But after about 45 minutes we stopped to rest, chatted with a gentleman who showed up, and then decided that we would head back to the entrance. The guy we were talking with told us that he was headed back to the entrance also, so we waited until he was a little ways away before we started back.

Taking a rest break by the light of our headlamps

But somehow, we got turned around, because soon we found ourselves in a section with a very low ceiling, and we knew we had not come that way. NOTE: Even though this is a “tube”, there’s a place where the tube splits into two tubes, and after a short distance, the two tubes rejoin into a single tube. We thought maybe we had gone into the other side of the split than we had used on the outbound hike. We turned around and went back, found a different tunnel and went that way. But after another ten minutes or so, we ran into a young couple and jokingly said, “We assume this is the way back to the entrance.”

“I don’t think so,” the guy said. “You’re actually going toward the end of the cave.” He pulled up a picture of the map on his phone, which does absolutely no good because there are no markings in the cave to relate to the map–the inside of the cave looks the same in both directions. But since they were going toward the end, we turned around and went back in the opposite direction, taking care when we came to the split to go into the right tunnel.

Finally we got to another spot where the ceiling was a little low, and there was a big rock pile ahead of us. Andy was certain that we were lost again, but I kept thinking I was seeing some light in my peripheral vision. I asked him to turn off his headlamp and I did the same, and at that point we could see sunlight coming through the ceiling at the top of the rockpile. It looked like just a small hole in the top of the cave, but it was actually the entrance where we had come in–it just looked totally different from the inside.

We had to scale the rock wall with hands and feet to climb out of the cave, but to me, that was easiest part of the whole thing since the rocks were dry and it was easier to balance when climbing up than it was when stepping downward. The young couple we had met in the cave had caught up to us by that point and we exited the cave together, after spending a total of 2 hours inside. We found out they are from Chicago (two other guys we met in the cave were from somewhere in the UK), and then we had them snap a photo of us to commemorate the adventure.

We made it out alive! 🙂

This was one of the most interesting things we’ve ever done on any of our travels, and I’m glad we did it even if I was extremely sore for the next couple of days. Guess I need to start adding some squats to my daily exercise to get these quads in shape!! If you ever decide to check out the Lava River Cave, be sure to read lots of reviews and heed the advice given. You can definitely get hurt in there, and you for sure don’t want your batteries to run out in your headlamp or flashlight!!

On Wednesday, it was time to dump the tanks again so Andy drove the rig into Flagstaff to take care of that chore. And since we’re getting ready to hit the road again, he also stopped by Jiffy Lube to get an oil change and a new air filter in the rig. As he was driving back to camp, he said he noticed a distinct “shimmy” in the way it was handling. He pulled off the road at one point and checked the tires but didn’t see anything wrong. But when he got back to camp and parked the rig, he checked the tires again and noticed that the front passenger tire had some slight cracking where the sidewall met the tread. We decided that on Friday he would take the rig into Flagstaff to have the tire replaced (cue the spooky music….).

On Thursday, we had a list of chores and errands to get done in preparation for leaving. At the top of the list was getting Andy’s passport renewed. It actually expires in December, but they recommend renewing up to nine months in advance due to the length of time it can take for processing. The bad part about the renewal is that you have to send them your current passport when you mail in your application, so at that point you can’t really travel internationally unless you pay extra to have the new passport expedited. We do plan to visit Mexico again in late October or early November, so we decided it was past time to get this process started. We went to the local post office in Flagstaff, got his picture taken, completed the forms, paid the appropriate fees, and then mailed everything to Irving, Texas for processing. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that it gets done quickly (mine only took about three weeks when I renewed it back in 2016).

Andy gets new hiking shoes for his 70th birthday.

After that, we went to the Flagstaff Mall so Andy could buy some new hiking shoes (birthday gift), ate lunch at Burger King (Impossible Whopper, FTW!!), bought groceries and supplies at Walmart, and picked up an Amazon shipment from the Amazon locker at Whole Foods. By the time we got back to camp it was close to 2:00 PM.

I stepped out of the rig for a bit and found Andy flat on his back up under the RV, checking on some wiring. I just happened to look at the tire next to him and noticed that the slight cracking we had seen the day before was now a full-blown split in the sidewall, exposing the inside of the tire. It was obvious that he could not drive the rig into town to buy new tires now, and that we needed to get someone to come to us to change the tire. We have AAA Roadside Assistance, so that’s who we called.

The small cracks became a split overnight. Time to call AAA.

After giving them all our information and directions to where we’re parked, they said they would call back and let us know who would be helping us. But when they called again, they said that they would not cover the service because we were too far off a paved road. The road we’re on is gravel, but it’s used every day by Fedex, UPS, school buses, all sorts of commercial vehicles, and lots of passenger traffic. But they wouldn’t budge.

Andy asked them if they would cover it if he drove the rig down to the highway, about two miles down the mountain, and they said they would. I wasn’t at all happy about that idea, but it seemed to be the only alternative unless we wanted to pay for a service call out of our pockets. So that’s what Andy did–he drove the rig down the mountain, very slowly, and sat there until the service guy showed up about 20-25 minutes later. By then the tire was totally ruined, and wouldn’t have gone any further. Fortunately we had a good spare tire, so they swapped it out and Andy drove back up the mountain. The service guy didn’t even carry equipment to add air to the spare tire, but again, fortunately we have an air compressor on board and Andy took care of that as well.

After driving two miles down the mountain, the tire was definitely gone.

So yesterday (Friday), Andy drove the rig to Discount Tires in Flagstaff to get two new front tires. One of our friends had offered us their family discount information, but this local store wouldn’t accept it–however they did work with Andy on the price, and we feel like we got a fair deal. We got two Michelin tires for $199 each, and also paid for the lifetime roadside hazard insurance. With all the fees and labor charges, it came to just over $550.

These tires had been on this rig for a long time, as they were on the rig when we bought it in April 2017. They had plenty of tread left, but dry rot had set in. They were just old, and needed to be replaced. We were very fortunate that all this happened BEFORE we set out on our next relocation move coming up this Tuesday! This tire could have blown on the interstate at 60 MPH….I don’t even want to think about it!!

So now we have the rig and the truck ready to hit the road again (as far as we know!). On Monday (Labor Day) we’ll do laundry and hit the grocery store again, then get things packed up and ready to go. We plan to leave out fairly early on Tuesday morning, on our way to Bluewater Lake State Park in New Mexico.

I love travel days, seeing new things, eating lunch on the road, the excitement of getting to a new camping spot. I’m looking forward to having electrical hookups for a few days, with unlimited water. I’m also looking forward to being able to use the campground showers every day if I want to, without having to worry about moving our big litter box out of our RV shower!

We’ll miss Flagstaff for sure, but we’ll be back next year unless plans change in the meantime. We made a return visit last night to MartAnne’s for their crunchy seitan tacos, and we’re going to hit Fratelli Pizza once more as well.

My fish tacos at MartAnne’s. Andy had the seitan tacos again.

And yes, we just reached our ONE YEAR ANNIVERSARY on the road!! One year ago today, we met my parents for breakfast at Cracker Barrel in Tupelo, said a tearful goodbye, and then headed west toward Texas. Our first night on the road that night was at a Harvest Host winery in Monroe, Louisiana where we boondocked next to the vineyard. It doesn’t seem like a year ago, but on the other hand, it’s been so long since I’ve seen my family. I’m getting really excited about returning to Tupelo in November to spend a couple of weeks with my folks for Thanksgiving!!

Our next blog post will be our usual monthly expense report for August, but we’ll also look at what our costs were for the entire first year on the road. Be sure to subscribe if you’re interested in that kind of information!

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

Safe travels!!

The Wedding Cache, End of Hiking, September Travel Plans Made

From Coconino National Forest near Flagstaff, Arizona:

It’s still definitely summer here at 8,100′, although the daytime temperatures rarely exceed 81° or 82°. There hasn’t been any rain for several weeks, ever since the very-timely week of moisture that came through the area just in time to help battle the Museum Fire back in late July. Everything is covered in dust again, both inside and outside the rig and it’s a constant battle to keep things wiped down and swept up. But when we look at the weather in other parts of the U.S., we feel blessed to have been here this summer where temperatures have been moderate and the skies have been blue.

Andy’s still hiking from time to time, as long as it’s downhill both ways! 🙂

It had been awhile since I had gone geocaching. According to the geocaching app, there were only three caches that were located within what for me is walking distance from our campsite, and I’ve already found all three of those. There are many more that are hidden in places that are just a short drive away. I saw an interesting-looking one on the app that was located not far from the trailhead on Snowbowl Road, just about a ten minute drive from our campsite, and I talked Andy into going with me to look for it.

According to the notes in the app, the cache was hidden by a couple near the location where they had been married a year earlier, in celebration of their first wedding anniversary. It was a .3-mile walk from the trailhead, and then a left turn up into the trees and rocks. The GPS coordinates got us to the general area but then we had to search high and low among all the boulders and fallen trees. I finally found it hidden among the roots of a huge downed pine tree, covered with some smaller pieces of wood.

Hard to see, but there’s an ammo box geocache hidden in there.

The cache was an ammo box (one of my favorite containers to find because they have lots of room for swag), and it was in great condition. I signed the log and left a plastic bunny that I had found at another geocache when we first arrived here (I know this bunny has some pop-culture significance, but I don’t know what it is). In return, I took a crocheted heart from the cache.

I left the bunny and took the crocheted heart from the Wedding Cache.

When I got back home I read the tag on the heart and found that it was one of thousands that are being scattered around the world by an organization called The Peyton Heart Project (peytonheartproject.net). The hearts each have an uplifting, encouraging message written on the attached tag, and are intended to be a morale booster to anyone who might be considering suicide or self-harm. The organization was founded in memory of a kid named Peyton who took his own life after being bullied. They are always looking for volunteers both to crochet the hearts and also to distribute them. If you’re good with a crochet needle, check them out. NOTE: For those who don’t know how to crochet, they also make the hearts by just wrapping yarn around a cardboard heart-shaped template.

After we found the geocache, we did some more hiking on the Viet Springs trail, looking for an old cabin that was supposed to be down there. We found the memorial boulder at the fork in the trail, but we didn’t go far enough to get to the cabin since it would have been even more of a strenuous uphill return climb, and the hubby isn’t as used to hiking as I am.

I was still enjoying my daily morning hikes through the forest around here–that is, until my last hike on Friday morning. I chose one of my favorite routes that should have been quiet and peaceful with a good chance to spot some deer (along with the cows that are now scattered throughout the woods). But as I hiked along, I noticed that there were more campers and four-wheelers than usual along the trail, even for a Friday morning. I  also came across a guy cutting up firewood with a chainsaw. Not exactly the peaceful, quiet hike that I was anticipating.

Summer thistles are starting to fade now, but still colorful.

But things got a lot less “serene” when I was about a half-mile from our rig on my return. I saw a red pickup truck in a small clearing off the trail, and there was a young couple kneeling on the ground next to a tree, and at first I thought they were setting up a tent because it looked like he was pounding in tent stakes. But as I drew nearer, I saw that they had a deer carcass strung up by its hoof to a tree, and they were butchering it on the ground.

Hike ruined.

Now, I know that people have hunted wildlife for ages in order to feed their families. I don’t eat meat anymore, but I get it. I have brothers who are avid hunters, and I grew up in a culture where hunting was celebrated. What I failed to realize was that the archery hunting season had opened Friday morning, and that’s why there were so many people in the woods that day. All I could think about was that deer, strung up to a tree, being eviscerated right on my hiking path. It was probably one of the deer that I had seen so often on my walks, possibly one that had visited our campsite on multiple occasions.

I see deer in the woods on almost every hike, and they occasionally visit our campsite.

So now, I’ve lost all my desire to hike through the forest here. I feel like we’re camped in the middle of a hunting ground–which we are. Hopefully most of the hunters are only here for the weekend and they’ll head home today. But there will be some who will remain here, and then next weekend is Labor Day weekend, which I’m sure will bring even larger crowds into this area, riding their four-wheelers with their weapons, looking to bag one of “my” deer. The whole thing has left me depressed and unsettled.

We were already planning to start traveling again in September, but the opening of hunting season has set the wheels in motion, even though the weather is still nicer here than it will be anywhere else we go. But yesterday we did some research and made some travel plans.

We’ll be pulling out of here on September 3, the day after Labor Day, and heading to New Mexico. We’ve made reservations for three nights at Bluewater Lake State Park, located off I-40 near Prewitt, New Mexico at an elevation of 7,554′. We chose this location for several reasons: (1) we’ll have electrical hookups so we can run the air conditioner if needed, (2) there are showers and a dump station onsite, (3) there’s a lake, and (4) we’ll only have to pay $4/day for the electricity since we still have an active New Mexico State Parks annual pass. I wanted a site with access to electricity and water so that I can spend one day giving the rig a deep cleaning after being in this dust for so long. Only 14 of the 149 sites in this park have electricity, so reservations were essential even if there was a $12 fee just to make the reservation on the online system, ReserveAmerica (such a ripoff!).

After our three nights are up there, depending on the weather, we will most likely head up to the Durango, Colorado area to do a little boondocking in the San Juan National Forest. Or we might decide to just snag a first-come first-serve site at the same state park where we’ll already be. No need to plan TOO far ahead! 🙂

September travel plans, subject to change according to the weather.

We have thoroughly enjoyed our stay here in the Flagstaff area this summer, and are already talking about coming back here next year. But who knows, a lot of things can change between now and then, including weather patterns. This year there was an above-average amount of snow and rain in the winter and spring here in the Southwest which made everything very lush. That could be very different next year, and temperatures could be much warmer. We shall see!

Tomorrow is our official 1-year anniversary of our full-time RV lifestyle! One year ago tomorrow, we moved out of our sticks-and-bricks house and into our RV, and then parked it at nearby Tombigbee State Park just outside of Tupelo while we finished emptying the house for the closing three days later.

This year has flown by like a rocket! We have absolutely no regrets about our decision to downsize and live on the road, and cannot wait to see what the future holds for us!

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

Safe travels!

 

Cows Come Calling, Milestone Birthday, Generator Conks Out

From the Coconino National Forest near Flagstaff, Arizona:

Summer is definitely showing signs of winding down here in the mountains. The angle of the sun is noticeably different than it was when we arrived here back in late May, making the shadows longer and darker. The temperatures have continued to be mostly very pleasant with highs in the upper 70s, with just a few days climbing into the low 80s. However, with the exception of about a week of rain last month, the monsoon failed to really develop in this area so the humidity levels have been very low, making the temperatures even more pleasant.

Summertime in the Coconino National Forest

Of course, our campsite and the nearby road are very dusty, so it’s a constant battle trying to keep the rig and the truck somewhat clean. I’ve already told Andy that our next stop needs to be a place with water hookups so I can spend a day or two deep-cleaning the inside of the RV to get rid of all the dirt and dust we’ve accumulated. But every boondocker worth their salt knows that a little dirt never hurt anyone, and we’ve learned to just do the best we can with a whisk broom and a hand-vacuum.

Over the summer, the grass around here has grown tall and thick, thanks to so much winter and spring moisture. Starting in early August, when we would drive into Flagstaff, we noticed that there were cows grazing in the forest lands on the other side of Highway 180 from where we are located. We thought that was unusual, but then again there are plenty of old dried-out cow patties scattered around our campsite that would indicate that cows have been here in the past.

Then last Friday, we both started noticing these weird sounds coming from off in the distance, down the mountain. They got louder and louder as the day went on, until we recognized them as cows bellowing. And finally, around 2:30 PM, cows started appearing out of the trees, wandering through our campsite, headed further up the mountain toward the nearby pond (Hart Prairie Tank).

The cow parade lasted for a couple of hours. They were mostly females with their calves, but there were a few bulls in the mix as well. They were pretty noisy, calling out to each other as they were being herded into their new grazing area. By nightfall they had pretty much congregated near the pond, and we could here them  throughout the night.

Since then, the cows have spread out over the area, and they wander from spot to spot, grazing on the tall grass. I see them scattered out all along my usual hiking routes, sometimes in large clusters, but often in small groups of four or five. We still get regular visits several times a day from four to six at a time coming through our camp, especially in the early morning or late afternoon. One day Andy was sitting outside in his chair reading, and I looked out the window and saw four cows right behind him. He had no idea they were there, they had walked up so quietly. 🙂

I did a little research and found that some of the local ranchers lease the grazing rights from the National Forest in order to meet the local demand for grass-fed beef in stores and restaurants. As a vegetarian, it’s sad to me to think that these intelligent, social and docile animals will wind up being butchered, but I’m glad that they at least didn’t have to spend their short lives on some factory farm being fed grains that they are not designed to eat.

Yesterday was a big day in our household. It was Andy’s birthday–he finally reached the Big 7-0! He said he doesn’t feel any older, and he certainly doesn’t look any older, so I guess it’s true that 70 is just a number. Happy Birthday, Andy!!

My plan was to bake some cinnamon rolls for his birthday breakfast, so as soon as he rolled out bed, I went to start the generator so I could use the convection oven. Of all days, on Andy’s birthday the generator refused to run. It started a time or two, but would immediately shut down. We had been having some intermittent issues with it, and Andy had been nursing it along with Seafoam fuel treatments and checking the oil, but yesterday, nothing he tried would work to keep the genny running.

The generator decided to crap out on Andy’s birthday, so no cinnamon rolls for breakfast.

It was time to call in the professionals.

So we headed to Starbucks. 🙂

Although Starbucks didn’t have cinnamon rolls, they do have some decent pastries, so we had coffee and sugar for breakfast while I did a little research on Google to look for a generator service shop. I found a place in Flagstaff that works on Onan generators (ours is the RV QC 4000) and who have excellent reviews, so after we left Starbucks, Andy called them while I went inside the post office to pick up our mail, and he made a service appointment for 8:00 AM this morning. (If you know Andy, you know he’s NOT a morning person, so that’s how seriously important it was to get the generator fixed.)

We went back to the rig for the afternoon to make sure that the kitties were comfortable since it was a little on the warm side. We leave the windows open and the fans on while we’re away, so we don’t like to leave the rig unattended for too long. Once things started to cool off later in the afternoon, we drove back into Flagstaff and I took Andy out for an early-bird birthday dinner at the top-rated (per Yelp!) Mexican restaurant in town, MartAnne’s. I chose this place because, in addition to their rave reviews, they also have several great vegan/vegetarian options on their menu. They actually have crispy seitan tacos, served with rice and beans, which we both had to try. The server gave us complementary chips and salsa (they’re not usually free there), since we ordered guacamole and it was Andy’s birthday. Their salsa is excellent, very smoky and a little spicy. We each had a margarita, and thoroughly enjoyed our meal there.

Delicious seitan crispy tacos at MartAnne’s Mexican restaurant in Flagstaff

Afterwards we walked around the historic downtown area, checking out some of the shops, and picked up a bottle of hard cherry cider for later. Then we drove to Baskin-Robbins where we could enjoy some dairy-free dessert. We made it back to the rig before sundown so we could make some preparations for taking the rig in for the generator service this morning.

We had no way of knowing how long the rig would be in the repair shop, and were a little worried about the kitties being in the rig for very long while it was parked in the direct sun while they worked on the generator. We talked about me following Andy into town in the truck in case we needed to rescue the kitties and take them someplace cool. But, in that scenario, the campsite would be unattended, and we didn’t want to lose our solar panels, so after we got back from Baskin-Robbins last night, Andy went ahead and loaded the solar panels in the back of the truck, and we decided that I would stay in camp unless he called me to come rescue him and the fur-babies.

We got up very early this morning so that Andy could leave with the rig around 7:15 AM for our 8:00 appointment. He texted me around 8:30 to let me know they had already diagnosed the problem and were getting it taken care of. First of all, for some reason the oil dipstick did not fit correctly and we were getting an oil leak. Secondly, the carburetor was dirty and needed cleaning. They replaced the dipstick, removed and cleaned the carburetor, and then did an oil change on the generator. The total charge was $160 for parts and labor, and they were done by  about 9:15. The morning was cool enough that the kitties were fine, so it was a very successful visit to the repair shop. A big shout-out to Flag Tool & Engine Repair–if you’re ever in the Flagstaff area and need generator work done, be sure to look them up!

While Andy had the rig in town, he went ahead and dumped the tanks, refilled the water and propane, and topped off the gas tank, so we’re good to go for another week of awesome boondocking!!

Cloudy or sunny, full-time RV life is awesome!

Living in an RV means you have to be able to roll with the punches and go with the flow. We’ve actually been very pleased so far with how this RV has performed in our first year of full-timing. This RV was never designed for full-time living, but it’s held up pretty darn well. I think it helps that we don’t move around as much as a lot of other full-timers do, so we don’t put as much stress on the rig. Over the summer, we’ve driven her about 30 miles per week, just to go into town to dump the tanks and get water/propane. We’ll do more driving this fall, but even then, we tend to get where we’re going and then stay there for at least a couple of weeks before moving on. That’s just the way we roll, and I think it’s good for us AND the rig.

Hard to believe that Monday will be our one-year anniversary of living full-time in Lizzy. We just got our new 2020 Texas registration stickers in the mail to go on the windshields of both vehicles. Texas is kind of weird–instead of a yearly sticker to go on the plate, it goes on the windshield. Texas does require a yearly vehicle inspection to complete the registration, but when you renew on-line as we did, you can self-certify that the vehicle is currently out-of-state, and they will send you the sticker anyway. Then, once you drive back into Texas, you have three days to find an inspection station and get the inspection done–until then, there will be a note on your file with the DMV stating that your registration is incomplete. We’ll be heading heading through Texas in late October or early November on our way back to Mississippi for Thanksgiving, and will get the inspection done then.

We have legal vehicles for another year!

So that’s all the excitement around camp for now. We’re all doing well, enjoying life with the deer and the cows, listening to the wind in the pines and the aspens, hiking through the mountains, reading good books, and generally feeling blessed to be where we are.

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

Safe travels!

Eleven-Month RVersary, Museum Fire Update, Major Rig Upgrade

Today marks the eleven-month anniversary of the day we moved out of our sticks-and-bricks house and into our little RV to start our new life as full-time RVers. It’s hard to believe that we’ve been out here for almost a year–time just seems to fly by. But we’re still having the time of our lives, and have no inclination to even remotely consider settling down somewhere.

Over the next month, I’m going to be working on a retrospective of our first year on the road. Not sure if it will be a YouTube video or just a blog post, but I’m putting some ideas together, so stay tuned to see what we come up with!

We are still camped in the Coconino National Forest just northwest of Flagstaff. I’m sure you’ve heard about the Museum Fire, a wildfire that started last Sunday, July 21, just north of Flagstaff. The fire grew quickly on Sunday and Monday in the dry timber and steep terrain just about a mile outside the Flagstaff city limits. On Monday, the smoke was drifting to the west, so the air outside our RV was very smoky and hazy. In fact, it was so thick that I didn’t even attempt to do my daily hike that morning.

Smoke from the #MuseumFire invades our camp on Monday

Fortunately, on Tuesday, the monsoon rains finally arrived, bringing cooler temperatures, higher humidity, and much needed moisture to the Flagstaff area. There was more rain on Wednesday (and fortunately not a lot of lightning) which allowed the firefighters to begin getting a handle on the blaze. The amount of smoke was greatly reduced, and with the shift in wind direction, we no longer had any smoke in our area.

We’ve driven into Flagstaff a couple of times for grocery shopping and dumping the tanks, and while we’ve seen a lot of firefighting activity, including helitankers slurping up water from the reservoirs and dumping it on the hotspots, the residents of Flagstaff for the most part seem to be taking things in stride. Businesses are open, tourists are still flocking in, and things look pretty normal except for the wisps of smoke that continue to rise over the mountains to the north.

Right now they say just under 2,000 acres have burned and that the fire is 12% contained. The emphasis is starting to shift to flood control as the monsoon rains are expected to continue for another month or two. There are a couple of watersheds on the mountains that will funnel water, debris and ash down into some of the neighborhoods, so there are huge sandbagging operations going on right now. The athletic teams from the local high schools and Northern Arizona University have been volunteering to fill sandbags to help protect their communities. On one single day, they distributed over 100,000 of them.

We, of course, have been keeping a close eye on the fire as well as the weather. We are far enough away from the Museum Fire that we’ve never been endangered by anything other than heavy smoke for one day. But the monsoon clouds can bring lightning, even when there’s no rain, and lightning is the primary cause of wildfires in Arizona. There is a very good early warning system in this area that pushes out alerts to every cellphone connected to cell towers in the affected area. The alarms are very loud, and it’s actually pretty funny when you’re in a restaurant or Walmart, and everyone’s phone starts blaring at the same time! But the alerts do serve an important function, letting people know when they need to move out of the area due to fire or other hazardous conditions. If a fire should start somewhere near us, we would be alerted both by the phone system as well as by personnel from the local authorities who fan out into the forests, looking for campers and hikers.

One of the many automated alerts we received while eating pizza in Flagstaff

If you would like to get the latest information on the Museum Fire, you can get the official updates on Inciweb – Incident Information System or you can follow Coconino National Forest on Twitter @CoconinoNF. If you like the gossip around the fire, just get on Twitter and do a search for the hashtag #museumfire and you’ll get the official stuff and the posts from some frustrated people.

Unfortunately for the fire suppression effort, the forecast for the weekend is calling for drier, warmer conditions before more rain moves into the area next week. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that the containment efforts of the past few days will allow them to hold the line until more moisture arrives.

A big “Thank You” to all the first responders, incident teams, firefighters, hotshots, and support personnel who are putting it all on the line at this fire and every other fire that is currently burning. You folks rock!!

So, in other news, we just made a major upgrade to our rig. Back in early December, we visited Camping World in Tucson, even spending the night in their parking lot, to have our house batteries replaced. Being the naive RV newbies that we were, we took their word that the new batteries would provide us with 150 amp hours of power, which should have been plenty for our needs. We soon found out that something was definitely lacking in the power situation. As long as we had the solar panels hooked up on a sunny day, we had all the power we needed during the daytime, but at night the charge would rapidly deplete as the sun went down. The deep cycle batteries that we were using can only be drawn down to about 50% capacity without damaging them, so we had to be super careful at night not to use too many lights or let the fan run overnight. In the mornings, the first thing that I would do upon rising would be to check the charge controller to see if there was enough battery life available to turn on the furnace (it’s propane but the furnace fan runs off of 12V battery power).

We finally took a closer look at the batteries which are stored under the entryway steps, and were able to determine that they were actually only 25 amp hours each, and since you can only draw them down to 50% charge, we only had a total of 25 amp hours between the two batteries. We were getting by, but just barely. Fortunately we have been in Arizona where it’s sunny most of the time, but with the monsoon clouds moving in, we were ready to make a change.

We had been interested in upgrading to lithium batteries for some time. While they are much more expensive, they require no maintenance (no need to add water), and best of all, they don’t have the 50% limit on how far they can be drawn down. You can pretty much use them to their full capacity. In addition, they have a much longer lifespan. The only drawback is that they will shut down if the temperatures get into the 20’s and stay there for awhile. We try to avoid any place that gets that cold at night anyway.

As it happened, on Monday of this week, the local solar system supplier in Flagstaff, Northern Arizona Wind & Sun, announced a 10% off sale on their Battle Born lithium batteries. Battle Born is the top of the line in RV lithium batteries, and so we decided it was time to do the upgrade. Andy called them to ask a few questions, and then told them to hold two batteries for us and he would drive into town to pick them up (the same day that all the smoke was blowing over our campsite). We were hoping to get the batteries installed quickly so that we could make a quick exit from the area if the fire started moving our way. In fact, while he was in town, I stayed at the rig with my maps, trying to plan where we might want to go next if we needed to make a quick escape.

Unfortunately, when Andy got to NAzW&S, they told him they didn’t have the batteries in stock, and it would be Wednesday or Thursday before they arrived. He went ahead and paid for them, so at that point we were committed to staying in the Flagstaff area for at least a few more days. As it turned out, the fire moved away from us and the smoke cleared out of our area, so the sense of urgency was greatly diminished.

When Andy took the rig to town on Thursday (yesterday) to dump the tanks and get water, he called NAzW&S to check on the order, and found out that the batteries had arrived. He drove by to pick them up, and got back to our campsite around noon. We ate a quick lunch of PB&J sandwiches and then got started on the installation project.

Removing the old deep-cycle lead-acid batteries, 25 Ah each

Everybody knows that projects always take longer than first estimated, and this was no different. Pulling the old batteries out was no problem. But the new Battle Born lithium batteries are slightly larger (although lighter), and it was a tight squeeze to drop them both into the battery compartment under the entryway step. Once they were seated in the compartment, the battery terminals on each end were difficult to reach under the upper lip of the compartment, so attaching those stiff battery cables was a real BEAR! But Handy Andy persevered, and an hour or so later, they were all hooked up.

Hooking up the Battle Born lithium batteries, 100 Ah each

The next step was to reconfigure the solar charge controller with the appropriate settings for the lithium batteries (as opposed to our old deep cycle lead acid batteries). After changing the eight DIP switches, we just got general FAULT errors on the display, and I couldn’t even get the appropriate menu items to appear so I could make the rest of the changes. After reading through the manual, I determined that we needed to disconnect the charge controller at the fusebox to let it reboot, so that the changes in the DIP switches would be accepted. After we did that, the correct menu items were available, and I made the rest of the changes, and then we had to reboot it again.

Finally, the setup was complete, and we marveled at how much power we had available, just from the amount of charge the batteries had straight out of the box. By then the sun was going down so we didn’t have much time to charge them from the solar panels, but even so, we were able to use all the lights we wanted, as well as run the fan overnight. And this morning, there was hardly a dent in the amount of power used overnight.

YES, that’s what I’m talkin’ about!!

Today we had plenty of sunshine (along with a few small showers), so the batteries have been fully charged from the sun. At this point, we could probably go three or four days without having to charge them again if we needed to. This opens up a lot more possibilities for boondocking in cloudy places like the Pacific Northwest, where I’d really like to visit in the future. Another successful upgrade for our full-time RV life!

This afternoon we had a quick chat with an investment advisor from Fidelity, where we have the majority of our investment funds. Of course he was trying to up-sell us to a managed fund, but I told him I wasn’t interested. He did a quick review of our holdings and told us we looked to be in good shape, although he did advise me that my portfolio might be a little too aggressive since most financial mangers are expecting a downturn in the next year or so. I told him I’d had the same thoughts, and that I’d probably make some adjustments on my own in the next few months if it looks like the prudent thing to do. Fortunately, we haven’t yet had to dip into any of our investment holdings, but it’s nice to know that we have that cushion if needed.

So for now, we’re still just hanging out in the Flagstaff area, enjoying the alpine weather. High temperatures remain in the high 70’s and low 80’s, with lows in the 50’s at night. The humidity levels have risen some this week (right now it’s 73° with 35% humidity outside), but I doubt you’d find any more pleasant weather anywhere in the country right now. We’re going to enjoy it as long as we can.

I’m still doing a lot of hiking–I’m usually gone for an hour and a half to two hours each morning while Andy has his breakfast and starts his day. I’ve been participating in some Fitbit challenges with some of my friends, and that helps keep me motivated when my feet and knees start to ache. There are just so many roads and trails around here, and so much natural beauty, it really isn’t that hard to get motivated to wander in the woods each morning.

Could there be a more beautiful place to hike?

That’s pretty much it for now. Life is good!

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

Safe travels!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beautiful greenery along the hiking trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

Safe travels!

Hello, 911, We Need a Rescue

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

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

Beautiful stand of aspen trees on Forest Road 151

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

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

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

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

The Vegan Cubano pasty at the Cornish Pasty Co.

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

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

Twisted, burned tree trunk on FR 9216Q

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

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

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

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

Read on.

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

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

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

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

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

Me: Where are you?

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

Me: Thanks for locking me out. 🙂

Andy: Thought I’d meet you. Sorry!

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

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

But he never showed up so I texted again:

Me: It’s been an hour. Are you lost?

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

Me: Sh**. Stay put.

Andy: K

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

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

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

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

I decided to call for help.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me: My phone is about out of juice.

Me: R u there?

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

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

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

Andy: I have not moved.

Me: Call 911!

Andy: That will be the end of my power.

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

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

Andy: Turning off my phone.

Me: Hang tight, love you! ❤

Andy: <thumbs up>

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We have some new ground rules now.

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

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

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

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

Safe travels!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Accumulation of sleet on the ground around our camp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our first experience camping in the snow

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

Not All Who Wander Are Lost. Life Is Good!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Desert blooms in our campsite

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

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

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

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

Sounds like a great idea to us!

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

Safe travels!

 

Forest Boondocking, Moving to Williams, Watching the Weather

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

Arriving at our campsite on a rainy day

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

Pumphouse Wash is a beautiful stream flowing through Kaibab limestone cliffs

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

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

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

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

Iconic view of Sedona from the airport overlook

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

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

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

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

Handy Andy doing some rig maintenance while the sun shines

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

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

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

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

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

Awesome shower facilities at Grand Canyon Railroad RV Park

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

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

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

Beer-battered cod and fries at Grand Canyon Brewery

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

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

Andy and Elvis in the Twisters 50’s Diner

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

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

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

Safe travels!

Monthly Full-time RV Living Expense Report – April 2019

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

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

We’ve just completed our eighth 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.

In April we spent the first two weeks boondocking in the desert along Bloody Basin Road, just off I-17 between Phoenix and Flagstaff, Arizona. The next two weeks we treated ourselves to a little more “civilization” by staying at Hilltop Campground, a US Forest Service developed campground in the Prescott National Forest just outside Prescott, Arizona. There were no hookups there, but they did have a vault toilet as well as a dumpster for trash. The sites are normally $18/night, but with Andy’s senior pass, we paid half price. After reaching our 14-day limit there, we moved on to more free boondocking in the Coconino National Forest just outside of Flagstaff where we are currently located.

All set up at Camp Sunset, our new home on Bloody Basin Road.

We had one large RV-related expenditure this month–we bought a new mattress! We ordered a custom mattress from MattressInsider.com due to the irregular size and cut of the bed platform. The cost was $496, including shipping, and we are very happy with the mattress so far! On the other side of the ledger, we got an unexpected refund from the dentist in Yuma where we had our dental work done in March. Our insurance paid more than they expected, so they refunded us $428. Happy days!!

Here are our expenses for April:

Camping fees + Electricity

February: $63 – Still in the Pilot Knob BLM LTVA, so no actual expenditures, just the prorated cost of our annual passes.

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

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

Eight month average: $179

Our little solar farm at our campsite in Hilltop Campground

DUMPING FEEs

February: $48 – Dumped our tanks and filled up with fresh water every 6 days @ $12/visit at the nearby Chevron station.

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

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

Eight month average: $30

Fuel for the RV

February: $0 – Stayed in place all month, 20.4 generator hours and we still have about half a tank of gas left from the last time we filled up in December.

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

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

Eight month average: $155

Fuel for the Truck

February: $113 (49 gal, 17.6 MPG)

March: $92 (36 gal, 18.9 MPG)

April: $130 (45 gal, 18.2 MPG)

Eight month average: $155

Sunset at our camp on Bloody Basin Road

PROPANE

February: $62 (17.7 gallons) – The weather got a little cooler in the middle of February, but then it really warmed up in the past week, so our heating costs remained about the same, as did our cooking usage. Propane is still $3.49/gallon at Chevron.

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

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

Eight month average: $36

groceries

February: $558 – This month appears higher but it’s kind of a timing thing as we did a big Costco haul on February 1, and we also bought weekly groceries on February 28. We’re not eating or drinking any more than usual.

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

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

Eight month average: $508

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

dining out

February: $184 – We go to the nearby casino every Friday morning for their $5.95 breakfast buffet. We had lunch in Los Algodones (Mexico) once this month, and we also had lunch at a Mexican restaurant in Yuma called Chretins (family operated since 1946). We had our Valentine’s Day dinner at an Asian restaurant called Sesame’s Kitchen because our first two choices were overbooked.

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

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

Eight month average: $217

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

household / furnishings

February: $205 – Includes purchase of Turbotax software, an external hard drive for my laptop, a new chair for Andy to use when working on jewelry (someday), and a new vegan cookbook which was authored by some of our favorite full-time RVers.

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

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

The new mattress in place. Fits perfectly!

Eight month average: $154

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

petcare

February: $7 – Kitties are doing very well!

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

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

Eight month average: $67

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

February: $276

March: $276

April: $276

Eight month average: $267

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

mail forwarding

February: $45 – Had mail forwarded twice to get all the tax documentation. Also extended the scanning service for another three months at $10/month.

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

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

Eight month average: $18

Laundry

February: $17 – One trip to the Yuma laundromat, three large loads.

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

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

Eight month average: $20

attractions / entertainment

February: $96 – We visited the Yuma Territorial Prison Historical Site, which cost us $14. Also includes parking fee and tips for musicians for our daytrip to Los Algodones, a puzzle book for me, and a Kindle book for Andy.

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

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

Eight month average: $85

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

Antique store and saloon in Crown King

memberships

February: $40 – Annual membership dues for Escapees (they handle our mail service and we get discounted rates in their parks).

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

April: $0

Eight month average: $36

Equipment for RV

February: $28 – Andy ordered a new high-tech caulking gun to take care of some maintenance on the rig.

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

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

Eight month average: $370 (Includes over $2K in solar equipment purchased in November 2018.)

RV Maintenance & REpairs

February: $28 – Hooray, nothing broke on the rig this month! We bought two tubes of Dicor lap sealant so Andy can do a little preventative maintenance on the rig.

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

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

Eight month average: $96

The generator gets an oil and air filter change

truck maintenance & repairs

February: $0

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

April: $0

Eight month average: $10

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

Vehicle insurance

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

VEhicle License and registration

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

Summary

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

February Total: $1,904

March Total: $2,257

April Total: $2,495

Eight month average: $2,518

It obviously makes a huge difference whether we’re moving around a lot or staying in one location for an extended length of time. 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. In January,  February and early March, we had much better months in terms of our pocketbooks while eating well, entertaining ourselves, staying warm and dry and enjoying the beautiful surroundings and interesting culture along the southern border. In mid-March we started moving again, changing locations about every two weeks, so the fuel costs go up.

Now that springtime is here and the temperatures are finally starting to rise, we will continue to move as often as necessary to stay comfortable. Our goal is still to boondock on public lands, keeping our camping fees as low as possible. However, we still have about half a year left on our New Mexico annual pass, so we will most likely head in that direction where we can camp in the state parks with electricity for the air conditioner at $4/night. We’ll just follow the weather and go where we think there’s something beautiful and interesting to see outside our windows each day.

Enjoying the view just outside Crown King, AZ

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.