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!!

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!

Summer in Flagstaff – Dreams Can Come True

The Backstory:

In July 1991, Andy and I got married in Houston, Texas where we were both living at the time. We had a fairly short engagement and I had not met his parents before the wedding. So for our honeymoon, Andy planned a trip for us to fly out to Arizona, his home state, to introduce me to his parents and to do some sightseeing.

I had never been to Arizona (Texas was as far west as I had ever been), so I was excited about the trip. I had my own preconceptions about what Arizona would be like–hot desert, lots of cactus and rattlesnakes, old western towns. When we landed at Sky Harbor airport in Phoenix and walked outside to pick up our rental car, the hot, dry air immediately reinforced those preconceptions.

But over the next few days, I found out that there is so much more to Arizona than what is portrayed in the western movies and popular culture. Andy had made reservations for us to stay near Sedona, but when we arrived at the hotel, we found that although it had a Sedona address, it was located far enough away that the red rocks weren’t even visible. Andy wasn’t pleased at all, so he got on the phone and changed our reservation, and found us a hotel in Flagstaff instead. We left immediately and drove into Flagstaff in the middle of a monsoon rain shower (I knew nothing about monsoons at that time), and I immediately fell in love with Northern Arizona.

My introduction to Northern Arizona in July 1991, between Sedona and Flagstaff.

The temperature in July was cool, the vegetation was green with all the Ponderosa pine, aspen and juniper trees. The air smelled fresh and clean, especially after the rain. The town of Flagstaff was full of interesting restaurants, coffee shops, tourist traps, and businesses that catered to the college crowd at NAU. Everywhere we looked there were people bicycling or hiking, or driving around with kayaks and/or camping gear loaded onto their vehicles. I had just been introduced to Paradise.

Flash-Forward to May 2000:

After we got married, we got introduced to tent-camping by some friends of ours. We would pitch our tent at local state parks where we would enjoy the outdoors while fighting off those huge Texas mosquitoes in the oppressive Gulf Coast humidity–but we had a blast.

And then one fateful day, on a whim, we visited an RV show at the nearby Astrodome. We had never looked at RVs before, and were in awe of the luxury and convenience to be found in what we had always thought of as a “camper”. Who knew that you could actually have a fireplace (electric) in a camper? We heard stories of people who actually lived in these units full-time, after selling their homes and belongings, and who traveled the country as nomads. And right there, we decided that’s what we were going to do “when we retire”.

In May 2000, we left Houston and moved to the Phoenix area to be closer to Andy’s parents as they began to need some assistance with aging issues. Living in Arizona gave us the opportunity to see more of the state as we continued tent camping, and we both fell in love even more with Northern Arizona, specifically the areas of Sedona, Prescott and Flagstaff. We began to dream about one day living in the high country among the pines, in the cooler temperatures.

Exploring the Mogollon Rim in Northern Arizona, 2004

And now….

Here it is, mid-August 2019, and we are close to wrapping up an entire summer fulfilling our dream of actually living in Flagstaff, Arizona. And it’s been so much better than we had ever imagined!

Instead of paying the high cost of rent or a mortgage for real estate in the Flagstaff area, we brought our home with us and parked it for free on public land in the Coconino National Forest, about 10 miles outside of the city limits at about 8,100′ in elevation. We are surrounded by pine and aspen trees, and we can hike every day along the multitude of forest roads and trails that wind up and down the mountain.

Boondocking on Forest Road 151 in a designated dispersed campsite

When we arrived, there was still snow on the nearby peaks visible from our campsite. Over the summer we’ve watched our environment change as the snow melted and ran in small streams down the sides of the road. The aspens that were bare when we arrived gradually leafed out and are now whispering in the breezes that cool the forest.

We watched the spring flowers bloom, one variety after another, until the fields were covered in blue, purple and yellow flowers, and the butterflies began to arrive. We saw deer, elk, squirrels, chipmunks, a rabbit, a skunk, a coyote, and many different bird species. Every day the sky was blue and the humidity was low–until the monsoon arrived just in time to help put an end to the Museum Fire that broke out in early July just north of Flagstaff.

Springtime blossoms in the Coconino National Forest

With the monsoon providing rain and higher humidity, the grasses began to grow tall. The spring flowers gradually faded, to be replaced by summer flowers like thistles, that attract the most beautiful bees I’ve ever seen. My daily hikes have been an adventure in observing the almost daily changes in the flora of the area.

The bees love the thistles, and I love this bee.

Our location has given us easy access to all the services and amenities that Flagstaff has to offer. We’ve supported the local economy by purchasing gas, propane and groceries, dining out, paying dumping fees, doing laundry and getting haircuts–even dropping some bucks at the local art fair.

Because our RV is self-contained, has an onboard generator, and we have invested in solar power, we’re able to boondock (camp without electric/water/sewer hookups), so we didn’t have to worry about trying to snag one of those hard-to-get reservations at an RV park in Flagstaff. We’ve been able to keep our expenses to a minimum by living close to nature instead of paying for hookups in a park where RVs are parked side-by-side with no privacy.

Our new Battle Born lithium batteries are a great investment in boondocking

By living in the area for several months, we’ve gotten to know our way around and feel like we’re actually part of a community that admittedly is somewhat seasonal. We’re certainly not the only people who “summer” in Flagstaff!

And that’s the whole point–we didn’t want to just “vacation” in Flagstaff, we wanted to actually live here, and that’s what we’ve been able to do, thanks to the full-time RV lifestyle that we have adopted. It was a dream that we had for years that finally came to fruition in a way that we never could have expected, but which turned out perfectly for us.

I can’t imagine that I would ever want a sticks-and-bricks home in Flagstaff (or anywhere else, for that matter). I just don’t want to feel tied down to a property where I store my stuff, where I have to contend with yard maintenance and HOA fees and less-than-desirable neighbors. And Flagstaff gets pretty cold in the winter, and I’m not a cold-weather person.

So when the summer ends, we will leave Flagstaff (reluctantly) and drive on to our next destination, wherever that may be, as we chase 70°. We’ll eventually head east to Mississippi for the Thanksgiving holidays with my family, and then return to the desert for the winter.

But we already know in our hearts that when the temperatures start to warm up after the winter is over, we’ll once again point the RV toward our summer dream destination, Flagstaff, Arizona.

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!

Quick Update on the Museum Fire

As I’ve mentioned before, I follow several accounts on Twitter that provide updates on wildfires in Arizona, so that we can stay informed in the event that a fire breaks out near us. Yesterday just before noon a tweet came across my feed regarding a 1-acre fire just north of Flagstaff. The tweet said that firefighters were responding.

The fire was named the Museum Fire, due to its proximity to the Museum of Northern Arizona.

Our camp in relation to the Museum Fire.

Within an hour the fire had grown to 200 acres, and there was a Type 2 response team on the scene with almost 200 crew and tons of equipment, including water tanker helicopters and large planes dropping fire retardant.

Around 2:00 both Andy and I received loud alarms on our phones indicating that evacuation and pre-evacuation orders had been issued near the fire zone. We checked the map and verified that we were not being ordered to evacuate. In fact the fire was moving toward the north and east, away from us.

From where we are camping we can see the smoke rising over the pine trees. By early evening the fire had grown to about 400 acres. As night fell, the moon rose through the smoke, appearing blood red–kind of spooky.

Smoke is visible from our campsite

During the night, the firefighters concentrated on “burnout” operations, which involves intentionally setting small, closely controlled fires ahead of the main fire to deprive it of fuel and protect property. The fire is close to the hill where the TV, radio and cell towers are located, as well as some neighborhoods in the northeast Flagstaff city limits.

This morning, the latest estimate of the fire is 1,000 acres. There will be a “heavy air attack” component of the firefight today. The skies are overcast but the forecast calls for little chance of rain in our area today, although chances increase on Tuesday and Wednesday. The monsoon season has been a bust around here so far, but hopefully it’s about to arrive in the nick of time. Of course, it can be a double-edged sword, as monsoon storms typical bring wind and lightning which can just make things worse.

Unless something drastically changes, we are safe where we are. We are actively monitoring the situation via our Twitter feed (yes, Twitter is an excellent tool for getting the most current notices and announcements from the proper authorities). We were already stocked up on groceries, fuel and water, so we don’t have any immediate need to drive into Flagstaff where things are pretty busy right now.

If this fire (or any other fire) should approach our area, we can be packed up and on the road in 10-15 minutes with everything we own. That’s one advantage of living in a RV–we can move our house away from a wildfire.

Even if the fire doesn’t move our way, it’s still possible that the Forest Service will close off this area from recreational use as a precaution and we’ll have to leave (especially if we don’t get some rain soon). Hoping that doesn’t happen, of course, but could totally understand if they make that decision. We love it here, and hope to stay longer.

If you would like to get the latest updates on the fire, just do a search on Twitter for #museumfire for the chatter, or follow Coconino National Forest (@coconinonf) or InciWeb (@inciweb) for more official announcements.

Otherwise, we’re doing fine, just enjoying the great weather while the rest of the country was sweltering. Doing a lot of hiking on some new trails–there are so many to choose from!

Thanks for taking the time to read our blog. Be sure to subscribe to keep up with our travels. You can also follow us on Instagram for updates between blog posts.

Safe travels!

Trash Collecting, Fitbit, Art In the Park, Monsoon Approaching

Good Tuesday morning, everyone, from our summer camp in the Coconino National Forest near Flagstaff, Arizona! It’s about 6:30 AM, the sun is shining, skies are blue, and it was a chilly 36° outside when I got up this morning.

The weather has been near-perfect so we’ve been spending a lot of time outdoors. I’ve been doing a lot of hiking on the trails around here (Andy goes with me occasionally). Almost every time we go out, we see deer in the woods. We saw a skunk the other day (fortunately it was a safe distance away), and we’ve even encountered a coyote. Over the weekend, the area was pretty busy with ATVs and dirt bikes riding the trails, but now that the holiday weekend has passed, the forest is once again quiet and peaceful.

Aspen grove near our campsite

I’ve been exploring some new trails, and on one of my recent hikes I was disappointed to find litter along the path, mostly in the form of old, flattened beer cans. I had a spare plastic bag in my backpack, so I tied it to my beltloop and started collected the trash as I came across it. In addition to cans, I found shotgun shell casings, half of a skillet, and old tin coffeepot, and other general debris. I had a bag full by the time I got back to the rig.

This area is actually pretty clean as compared to some others where we’ve camped. But it still irritates me when I come across evidence of the laziness and thoughtlessness of people who think it’s acceptable to simply toss their trash on the forest floor. It has gotten so bad in some places that the Forest Service and the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) have actually closed off areas of public land from recreational use because of all the litter and/or damage caused to the land from off-road vehicles.

Not sure what kind of flower this is, but they just started blooming this week

We can all help to keep these beautiful public lands accessible to us by remembering to:

  • Pack it in, pack it out. That includes human waste and used toilet paper.
  • Keep your motorized vehicles on approved, marked trails (maps are available from the Forest Service or BLM offices in the area).
  • Carry a small trash bag with you on your hikes and pick up any litter you find along the way. Be the better person.

On Sunday, I decided to start wearing my Fitbit again. I haven’t worn it at all since we moved into the RV back in August of last year. I almost didn’t bring it with me because it’s just another device that has to be charged up. But I was starting to get curious about how much effort I was expending on these hikes, so I’ve resurrected the Fitbit as well as a couple of apps (mainly Walkmeter) that I use for fitness. I know it’s not the same for everyone, but for me, the Fitbit and the apps provide motivation to get some exercise and push myself to stay healthy.

My Fitbit monitors my heart rate, and after wearing it for a couple of days, I’ve seen that my resting heart rate is a little higher than it used to be. I’m not sure how much of that is related to the altitude where we are, but it may also be related to the few pounds of extra weight I’ve acquired since we’ve been on the road. We don’t have a scale with us, so I’m not sure exactly what I weigh now, but I can tell by my clothes that I have a few pounds that I need to shed. I’m hoping that the Fitbit will make me mindful of my food and exercise choices.

There are some huge boulders along these hiking trails

Last Saturday we went to the Flagstaff Art in the Park festival at Wheeler Park near the historic downtown area. They had over 100 vendors displaying all sorts of artwork, jewelry, metalwork, textiles, etc. There was live entertainment, great food with lots of vegan options, and a beer garden.

I did a little Christmas shopping while we browsed the booths, and I even won a “prize”! With Andy being a silversmith, we were especially drawn to the booths displaying handmade silver jewelry. As we approached one booth, I noticed that their banner read “Sliver by Skip”. I thought that was unusual, so I spoke to the couple behind the display and said “Sliver by Skip? That’s an unusual name.”

Their faces both lit up, and the lady said, “You’re the very first person to notice that!”, and the gentleman said “You win the prize!!”

Turns out, the banner had a typo and they had not noticed it when they first received it from the printer. Of course, it should have read “Silver by Skip”, but they were headed out on the road for a couple of festivals and didn’t have time to have it reprinted. The gentleman presented me with a small display rack of stone necklaces and told me I could choose one, which I did. We all had a good laugh, and I wore the necklace for the rest of the day.

We hung out for a couple of hours, enjoying some vegan samosas and gelato while listening to the live music. However when the belly dancers took the stage, we decided it was time to head back to the rig (gotta give them credit for doing their thing, but they weren’t the best dancers I’d ever seen).

Today we’ll be headed into Flagstaff to have breakfast and then do some grocery shopping.

It looks like the weather will be taking a turn toward rain this week. The summer monsoon season is finally getting cranked up here in Flagstaff, if the forecast is to be believed. The temperatures will continue to be very moderate, but it looks like we’ll finally get some rain, which we haven’t had since the first couple of days that we were here. It will be nice to maybe get the dust settled a little bit, but the summer storms always increase of the risk of lightning-caused wildfires. We’re going to keep our fingers crossed that the rains will be gentle and the lightning stays in the sky where it belongs.

Rain in the forecast, finally

We hope you are enjoying your summer, wherever you 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!

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!

Monthly Expense Report – June 2019 – Full-time RV Living

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 ten full months on the road. In this post, I’ll be sharing the most recent three months’ expenses as well as our average-to-date for comparison, since line items can change drastically from month to month.

We spent the entire month of June in a free boondocking site in the Coconino National Forest on Forest Road 151 (also known as Hart Prairie Road), off Highway 180 northwest of Flagstaff. The weather has been near-perfect for boondocking, and there are plenty of empty camping spots along this road so we haven’t felt any pressure to leave this area.

Re-positioned the rig so that it’s parked in the shade

Because we stayed in one spot all month and didn’t move the rig except to dump the tanks and refill propane and water, our expenses were lower than average in June. We also cut back our spending on food and dining out, and we didn’t have any major issues with the rig or the truck. As a result of all that, we had our lowest expenses of any month since we’ve been on the road. HOORAY!! 🙂

Here are our expenses for the past three months:

Camping fees + Electricity

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).

May: $207 – We boondocked for free for 24 of the 31 nights. The seven nights we spent in the Grand Canyon Railway RV Park in Williams cost us $27/night which was a 50% discount on their normal rates with our Passport America membership, for a total of $189. The remainder is the prorated cost of our annual pass to New Mexico state parks (expires October 31).

June: $17 – We boondocked for free for the entire month in the National Forest, so there were no out-of-pocket expenses. The $17 is the monthly prorated cost of our annual pass to New Mexico state parks (expires October 31).

Ten month average: $166

DUMPING FEEs

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.

May: $42 – We didn’t have to pay to dump while we had full hookups in Williams. While staying on FR 320, we dumped three times at an RV park in Tusayan for $14 per visit. Technically, we could have driven into the Grand Canyon National Park and dumped at their campground for free, but we still would have had to visit the Tusayan RV park to buy propane, and Andy decided it was easier to just get everything done at one location.

June: $40 – We dumped the tanks and refilled our fresh water four times at Black Bart’s RV Park in Flagstaff at $10/visit.

Ten month average: $32

Fuel for the RV

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.

May: $111 – We moved three times, but only filled up the rig twice. We drove a total of 239 miles and used the generator 22.2 hours. We bought 34 gallons of gas and averaged approximately 9.6 MPG, net of generator use. Our average gas price in May was $3.22/gallon–another effect of being in a high-tourism area.

June: $62 – We filled up the RV one time toward the end of the month, and basically it was just the expense of running the generator all month plus taking the rig into town four times to dump the tanks. We bought 21 gallons of gas at $2.99/gallon, and ran the generator for 14.7 hours, and drove the rig 118 miles.

Ten month average: $142

Sometimes you get lucky and catch just the right light – San Francisco peaks from our campsite

Fuel for the Truck

April: $130 (45 gal, 18.2 MPG)

May: $115 (37 gal, 19.6 MPG)

June: $95 (30 gal, 19.5 MPG)

Ten month average: $128

PROPANE

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.

May: $76 (15.9 gallons) – Most of our propane purchases in May were at the RV park in Tusayan, where the cost was $4.85/gallon + tax = $5.28/gallon. They were the only propane supplier within reasonable driving distance, and they knew it and admitted it. We had some very cold weather, including sleet and snow, so we ran the furnace a little more than we usually do. Fortunately we had one week with full hookups in Williams when we were able to use the electric space heater, which offset at least a portion of the propane cost for the month.

June: $38 (12.5 gallons) – Warmer weather means less propane usage. And after the high prices in Tusayan last month, it was nice to get back to some reasonable propane prices. We filled up twice at Tractor Supply in Flagstaff, at $2.79/gallon.

Ten month average: $41

groceries

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

May: $464 – We were a little surprised at this number being down so much, as grocery prices in Williams and Flagstaff are a little higher than we’ve been paying. But when we saw what we spent on dining out (see below), the grocery figure made sense. Many of our restaurant meals involved doggie bags that provided us with an extra meal at home. And usually, when we ate lunch at a restaurant, we were too full to eat dinner later.

June: $466 – This was a fairly typical month for groceries, all of which were purchased at Walmart in Flagstaff.

Ten month average: $500

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

April: $201 – We drove up to Yarnell 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.

May: $464 – We spent way more than usual on eating out in May. We had a nice lunch in Sedona ($76); ate three times at the Grand Canyon Brewing Company which was conveniently located right across the street from the RV park where we stayed in Williams (twice we only had drinks and appetizer, total for three visits was $103);  ice cream and coffee at Twisters on Route 66 in Williams ($19); dinner at El Corral Mexican Restaurant on Route 66 in Williams ($41); two visits to We Cook Pizza in Tusayan ($71); brunch at Toasted Owl Cafe in Flagstaff ($49); lunch at the Bright Angel Lodge Harvey House Cafe in the Grand Canyon National Park ($37); breakfast at McDonald’s on the way to the Canyon ($26 – highway robbery!); and a few other miscellaneous charges including reloading Andy’s Starbucks card for $25. When we dine out, we pretty much order what we want and don’t worry about the prices, especially if it’s an unusual place with high-quality food. But hopefully we can get back on track in June and get this line item back in budget. 🙂

June: $192 – We did much better on dining out this month, thanks in large part to finding Fratelli Pizza in Flagstaff where they have a pizza-by-the-slice lunch special for $10 that we are now addicted to. We also visited Cornish Pasty Company in Flagstaff where they have delicious vegetarian/vegan options, and we also hit the local Pita Pit and IHOP (twice). Oh yeah, I think I remember stopping for some ice cream in the historic district one afternoon… 🙂

One slice of pesto and one slice of cheese pizza–delicious!

Ten month average: $239

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

household / furnishings

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

May: $149 – Includes $76 for a new Blu-ray player to replace our old one that quit working. We don’t play DVDs very often, but while we were camped on FR 320 we had very little cellular service and could not do our usual streaming of Hulu and YouTube, so we fell back on our DVD collection. When the old Blu-ray player wouldn’t play the discs without freezing and skipping, we replaced it with a newer, “smarter” version from Walmart.

June: $25 – Nothing this month but the necessities.

Ten month average: $140

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

petcare

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

May: $24 – Just food and litter.

June: $24 – Another month of just food and litter.

Ten month average: $58

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

April: $276

May: $276

June: $276

Ten month average: $269

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 about $30/month unless the plan rates go up.

mail forwarding

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

May: $30 – Renewed our mail scanning service for another three months. This service allows us to see the front of the envelope that is sent to our mailing address in Livingston, Texas, and then we can choose to have it shredded or added to our next mail forwarding. Because of this scanning, we were able to see that there was nothing urgent in our mail this month, so we did not have anything forwarded to us in May. It will instead be held until our next forwarding request, probably in early June.

June: $7 – Had our mail forwarded one time, nothing of any interest in there. Probably won’t have it forwarded again until August.

Ten month average: $18

Laundry

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

May: $15 – Did laundry once at the RV park where we stayed in Williams. I also had to wash the top quilt on our bed because Maggie puked on it (she’s not sick, I think she just gagged on a hair in her throat). Oh, well, at least they’ve stopped peeing on it!! 🙂

June: $25 – It just worked out, timing-wise, that we did laundry twice this month (we usually average going to the laundromat about every three weeks).

Laundry Day – The chore that never goes away.

Ten month average: $20

attractions / entertainment

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

May: $58 – Just the monthly subscriptions listed below, plus a bag of assorted puzzle books that I picked up at the Goodwill store in Sedona. NOTE: We visited the Grand Canyon National Park several times for free with Andy’s “America the Beautiful” senior lifetime pass for which he paid $10, right before they increased the price to $80. But even at $80, it’s still a tremendous bargain if you visit any of the national parks or monuments, especially since it’s a lifetime pass. Can’t wait until I turn 62 so I can get mine!! 🙂

June: $85 – In addition to our monthly subscriptions (see below), we checked out the Flagstaff Folk Festival ($10).  We also purchased a few items to carry in our hiking packs in case of emergency (lessons learned from Andy’s big adventure). We visited the Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, but got in free with Andy’s “America The  Beautiful” senior pass (saved $25). We also visited the Arizona Snowbowl and took the chairlift ride to the top of the ski lift, but thanks to a fortuitous conversation with a couple in the parking lot, this excursion was also free (details here). This month we dropped our subscription to Netflix and replaced it with a subscription to Hulu, where I binge-watched 11 seasons of “Frasier” and am now working my way through “This Is Us”.

Our view on our way down on the Arizona Snowbowl chairlift

Ten month average: $82

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

memberships

April: $0

May: $127 – Annual renewal fee for Amazon Prime. Currently questioning whether or not we should drop this next year.

June: $0

Ten month average: $41

Equipment for RV

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

May: $0 – Hallelujah!!

June: $17 – New tire pressure gauge and valve caps.

Ten month average: $297 (Includes over $2K in solar equipment purchased in November 2018.)

RV Maintenance & REpairs

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.

May: $35 – Bought two replacement lights (the amber teardrop-shaped clearance lights) for the overhead cab area to try to prevent water leakage into the rig.

June: $15 – Bought SeaFoam gas treatment for the generator. We also purchased new LED light bulbs for the interior, but we used our Discover Card reward dollars for those.

Ten month average: $82

truck maintenance & repairs

April: $0

May: $0

June: $0

Nine month average: $8

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:

April Total: $2,495

May Total: $2,337

June Total: $1,529

Ten month average: $2,401

After blowing our budget in May while staying in touristy spots like Williams, Arizona and the Grand Canyon, it feels good to have the purse strings under control again. An occasional indulgence is fine as long as we don’t make a habit of it!

We’re currently at about 8,100′ just northwest of Flagstaff, and the forecast calls for high temperatures between 75° to 85° for the next two weeks. It’s hard to predict exactly because the published forecast is for the city of Flagstaff, and we are about 1200′ higher than they are. As long as we don’t get too warm, we plan to stay in the Flagstaff area as long as we can. We like where we’re camped, and we like being in close proximity to good shopping and services.

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.

Settled In For Awhile, Amazon Lockers, Holiday Plans

Wow, it’s been ten days since I published an update to this blog. I kept thinking I would get around to it, but since things have been pretty laid-back lately, I didn’t have anything of real interest to report. But this morning I got a phone call from my Mom, and she was worried because there had been no blog updates or Instagram posts for awhile. So even if nobody else in the world notices that we haven’t communicated, we can always count on Mom to be looking out for us! We love you, Mom!! ❤

We are still in the same spot on Forest Road 151, north of Flagstaff, where we’ve been camped for four weeks now. We’re on a large pull-through site, and last week we re-positioned the rig so that it’s parked where it will get plenty of afternoon shade. Even though the afternoon temperatures are only in the 70’s, the inside of the rig can get 15-20 degrees warmer than the outside if we’re parked in direct sunlight. This spot in the shade keeps the rig very comfortable for us and the kitties. And since our solar panels are portable, we can keep them set up where they continue to get full sunlight.

Re-positioned the rig so that it’s parked in the shade

Most of our recreational activities since our last post have been taking hikes in the forest around us. We’ve found a couple more trails that we really like, one of which goes through a beautiful aspen grove that is shady and cool. The weather has been perfect for hiking–highs in the mid 70’s, with humidity levels around 15%.

Beautiful wispy clouds in a blue sky on one of my hikes

We’ve had no major issues with anything on the rig or the truck lately (knock on wood!). Our onboard generator (Onan 4000Kw) started running a little rough, so Handy Andy treated it to a little SeaFoam gas treatment, and it seems to be doing fine now. We also had to replace a few LED bulbs inside the rig, so we ordered them from Amazon and had them shipped to an Amazon locker in Flagstaff for pickup.

If you aren’t familiar with Amazon lockers, let me fill you in. They’re the best thing since sliced bread for nomads like us who need to have Amazon orders shipped to a physical address, which we don’t have anymore. They’re also perfect for people in sticks-and-bricks houses who are worried about packages getting stolen from their front porches. The Amazon lockers are just that–big metal lockers–which are located in brick-and-mortar businesses in mid-to-large size cities. We’ve used lockers in Tucson (located at a 24-hour convenience store), Anthem/Phoenix (located in a Chase Bank lobby), and Flagstaff (located inside Whole Foods).

If you want to use a locker, you simply do a search on Amazon.com to find the location of a locker near you, and add that location to your address book in Amazon. Then when you place your order, you select that address as your delivery location. When your order is delivered to the locker, you will receive a text message as well as an email which contains a numeric code that you will use to open the locker. The email will also have a bar code which can be scanned instead of entering the numeric code.

You simply go to the locker location where you’ll find a wall of lockers with a touchscreen pad. Enter your code or scan the bar code from your mobile device, and the locker door opens automatically so you can retrieve your package. It’s so cool!!

Amazon lockers in Tucson AZ

The important thing to remember is that you only have three days to retrieve your package from the locker, so make sure you get there on time. Right now the lockers are only in larger cities, but more are being added all the time. We highly recommend using them, especially if you’re away from home and need something shipped from Amazon pronto!!

We had originally planned to be in this location for two weeks, but with the perfect weather, beautiful scenery, and easy access to shopping and services in Flagstaff, we just haven’t felt the urge to move on. Yes, we would like to visit other places, but why leave perfection? Technically, we’ve overstayed our limit here, but there are plenty of open campsites on this road and no one has kicked us out yet, so we’re staying put for now.

That said, we have made some definite plans for the fall holiday season. We made reservations at Tombigbee State Park in Tupelo, Mississippi for two weeks in November so we can be with my family for Thanksgiving. I had hoped to find something  with full hookups a little closer to my parents’ home, but there doesn’t seem to be any such place. We could probably have dry-camped on a family member’s property, but we would be a long way from a dump station; so we decided to just go back to the same park where we spent our first week as full-timers after we sold our house. I’m really excited about getting to see my folks again, as we will have been on the road for almost fifteen months by then.

We’ll probably spend the summer here in the Flagstaff area, move over to New Mexico around September or October, working our way south toward the border, then start moving east across Texas in late October/early November, and then heading to Mississippi for Thanksgiving. And then, in December we’ll head west again to winter in Yuma.

But who knows? Plans are made to be broken! That’s why we don’t usually make reservations anywhere, but we did want to make sure that we had a place to park for Thanksgiving, so we went ahead and locked in our favorite campsite in Tombigbee SP.

So, in case you were wondering if we were still here, yes, we are. We’ve met some of our neighbors camping along the road here, and like us, they’re all planning to spend the summer here, so we’re not alone.

Not much snow left on the peaks now, but still beautiful

It’s hard to believe that June is almost over. And that means we have an expense report coming up soon. Be sure to watch for our next blog post where we let you know what it’s costing us to live full-time on the road.

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!