Travel Day, Camp Vulture, Green Desert, Critters

Hooray! We have safely arrived at our new campsite!

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

Our route from Yuma to Wickenburg

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

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

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

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

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

Our new front lawn at Camp Vulture

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

Sunset on our first evening at Camp Vulture

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

Trash left by previous occupants

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

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

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

Molly watching the birds in the grass outside our front door

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

Not the kind of tree you want to hug!

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

Beautiful area for desert hiking

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

Milk snake on our path while hiking

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

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

Spring in the desert is beautiful!

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

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

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Safe travels!

 

Boondocking – From Asphalt to BLM

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boondocking in the Camping World parking lot in Tucson

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

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

Ice cream at The Screamery on Congress Street in Tucson

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

Statue of Pancho Villa in Tucson

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

Touring RVs on the sales lot at Camping World

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

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

New batteries installed to make boondocking more comfortable

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

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

Free dump station in Tucson

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

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

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

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

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

BLM sign marking the camping area

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy holidays, everyone! Safe travels!!