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

From Coconino National Forest near Flagstaff, Arizona:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hike ruined.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Safe travels!

 

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!

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!

Q & A: Safety and Security While Hiking and Boondocking

Since all the excitement and drama that I shared with you in our last post, things have settled down quite nicely here in our camp.

We are still hiking regularly in the forest around us. If you haven’t read the previous post, then you don’t know that Andy got lost in the woods and had to be rescued by the sheriff’s department. Based on what we learned from that experience, we are super-careful now about following some basic rules when we go out hiking or geocaching.

Hiking is one of our favorite activities

We make sure that we carry plenty of water with us, that our cellphones are fully charged, and that we carry a backup power supply for the phone. Andy already had a good power pack, but mine would no longer hold a charge for very long, so I ordered a new one from Amazon. We both bought emergency whistles that also contain a compass, thermometer, and magnifying glass. We both carry butane lighters in case we need to start a campfire, and we both have pocketknives.

More importantly, we are careful to communicate with each other about where we’re going and when we plan to get back. When we’re on the trail, we leave markers along the way, especially at places where trails intersect so we know which way to turn on the way back. I often take photographs of road number markers or other landmarks in case I need to provide that information to rescue personnel.

And finally, we do more hiking together rather than separately now. Andy has stepped up his game and has gone on several longer hikes with me to look for geocaches. It definitely feels safer to have someone along with me when on my searches, not to mention that it’s just more fun.

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

Since we’re doing more hiking together now and leaving the rig unattended while we’re gone, that brings up another issue. I received this question from Pete, one of my blog subscribers, and thought it would be a good topic to address in this post:

Pete posted:

Thank you for sharing this part of your travels.
I’m thinking about security… when you park at an “un-official” camping spot without any knowledge of what goes on there how can you feel secure leaving your vehicle or panels there?

Great question, Pete!

First of all, when Pete refers to “un-official” camping spots, I assume he’s referring to the places where we boondock, which in this case means camping for free on public land, without hookups of any kind. In one sense, the sites we use (Bureau of Land Management, National Forest) are “un-official” since you can’t reserve them, there’s no site number, there’s no camp host checking up on you, and there’s no fee to be paid. But in actuality, it is still an “official” camping area–when you enter the area you are greeted by a sign that lists what the regulations are (14-day limit, how far from the main road you can set up camp, whether or not campfires are allowed, etc.). So there is still at least a sense that someone is actually in charge here, and is keeping tabs on what goes on.

Our first line of defense is location, location, location. When we are doing our research to select our next campsite, we use several apps that include reviews from campers who have stayed in that area before. Many times photos are also posted with the reviews. But even if the reviews are good, if we pull into the area and something feels “off”, we won’t stay there. If there’s a lot of trash or debris, if we hear a lot of ATVs or gunfire in the distance, or anything else makes us uncomfortable, we just simply move on.

Boondocking on Forest Road 151 in a designated dispersed campsite

One of the things we like most about boondocking on public lands is the amount of privacy you have. Right now our nearest neighbors are .3 miles away from us–a nice couple named Andy and Christine who are also full-timers in a Class C that’s just a little larger than ours. And that’s an important point–we get to know the people that are camping around us, stopping to chat as we hike by. RVers are known as a tight-knit group that look out for one another. If we see or hear of anything sketchy going on, we let each other know about it.

Statistically, thieves are much more likely to select targets in populated areas where they don’t have to work so hard. We are camped two miles down a dirt road where campers are spread out fairly thinly. Most thieves are not going to go driving down a little dirt road to find something to steal when it would be much easier to go to the mall in Flagstaff and break into someone’s car–lots more opportunity in the urban areas. Yes, occasionally RVs do get broken into, but most of the time those are in RV parks in urban areas, and not boondocking on public land in the middle of the forest or the desert.

That said, we do take sensible precautions. There are times when we both need or want to be away from the rig at the same time, to go sightseeing, hiking or grocery shopping. Here are some of the things we do to mitigate the risk:

  • Solar panels – If we’re still a little unsure about the area and if our batteries have a good charge, we have occasionally disconnected the panels and set them inside the RV while we’re gone. Generally, though, we just lay them flat on the ground rather than leaving them tilted, so that they are less obvious from the road.
  • The rig – Of course we lock the door to the rig, as well as the outside storage bay. Because we have two cats with us, their comfort and health are the most important consideration. Depending on the temperature, we can leave the overhead vents open and run the fans. We also have a couple of windows that we can leave open as they are too small to crawl through. The larger windows are left closed and locked. If it’s too hot to get enough ventilation this way, then we simply won’t leave the rig unattended.
  • The contents – I generally take my laptop with me whenever we leave the rig to go shopping or sightseeing. Otherwise there’s not much of value inside the rig, as we have our wallets with us as well. We have a very small rig, so we can’t carry much anyway. If someone breaks in, they’re going to be sorely disappointed.
  • Time of day – I don’t remember a time when we have ever left the rig unattended after dark when we’re boondocking (it’s different when we’re parked in an RV park). Of course that means we’re a little more limited in things we can do or see, like having a late dinner in town or going to a movie, but we’re old homebodies anyway and we like being at home when the sun goes down.
  • Insurance – Of course, we carry full-timers insurance on our rig and the contents just in case the statistically improbable event occurs, and that gives us enough peace of mind to allow us to enjoy some time away from the rig, taking care of chores or seeing more of the area.

The safety of Maggie and Molly is our first priority when we leave the rig unattended

Our last sticks-and-bricks home was in a subdivision of a small town (population 35,000), and in general it was a “safe” neighborhood. However, we had some next-door neighbors that, due to some changing family circumstances, became more and more of a threat to the neighborhood, with the police appearing frequently at their front door. Even though we had a real house, we still felt threatened and were constantly unsure about leaving the house unattended to go on vacation. But we were pretty much stuck with the problem, since the house was stationary.

But now, living in our RV gives us the freedom to quickly and easily escape any situation that makes us uncomfortable, whether it’s the neighbors, the weather, the dust or just because we’re getting bored. When we moved into the RV, we sold the house and almost everything we owned to make this lifestyle possible. And that process of “letting go” taught us a lot about how relatively unimportant all our “stuff” is.

Yes, there’s always a risk that someone might walk off with our solar panels. They might break into the rig and take the bag of quarters that we keep under the seat for laundry machines. But by taking a few sensible precautions, and by remembering that it’s just “stuff”, we can set our minds at ease enough to go about our business and enjoy our time on the road, boondocking in some of the most beautiful locations on God’s green earth.

Life is too short to worry about the “what ifs” all the time. Get out there and enjoy it while you can!!

Hope this answers your question, Pete, and anyone else who might have wondered the same thing! Do you also have questions about our lifestyle? Be sure to leave a comment and we’ll try to address it in a future post!

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

Safe travels!

Hello, 911, We Need a Rescue

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

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

Beautiful stand of aspen trees on Forest Road 151

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

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

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

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

The Vegan Cubano pasty at the Cornish Pasty Co.

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

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

Twisted, burned tree trunk on FR 9216Q

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

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

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

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

Read on.

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

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

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

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

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

Me: Where are you?

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

Me: Thanks for locking me out. 🙂

Andy: Thought I’d meet you. Sorry!

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

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

But he never showed up so I texted again:

Me: It’s been an hour. Are you lost?

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

Me: Sh**. Stay put.

Andy: K

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

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

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

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

I decided to call for help.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me: My phone is about out of juice.

Me: R u there?

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

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

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

Andy: I have not moved.

Me: Call 911!

Andy: That will be the end of my power.

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

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

Andy: Turning off my phone.

Me: Hang tight, love you! ❤

Andy: <thumbs up>

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We have some new ground rules now.

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

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

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

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

Safe travels!

 

Weekend Sunshine, Old Lady Climbs Red Butte, More Snow (Really??)

We’re still camped on Forest Road 320 about 20 miles south of the entrance to the South Rim of Grand Canyon. After all the rainy and snowy weather we had last week, we finally caught a break. This past Saturday and Sunday were absolutely beautiful! The skies were clear and blue, and while it was a little cool and windy, it was still so nice to be able to spend some time outdoors for a change.

Finally able to catch a glimpse of the snow-cap on Humprey’s Peak

We were finally able to get a clear view of the San Francisco Peaks without them having a blanket of clouds over the top. We could clearly see the additional snowfall that the peaks received over the past week–the view was really stunning! We hope to get an even closer view of the peaks next week when we move closer to Flagstaff (spoiler alert!).

I was able to talk Andy into taking a walk with me along the Forest Road to see the retention pond that I had found earlier. It was an enjoyable walk in the sunshine to where the pond rests at the base of Red Butte. I was hoping for a good photograph of the reflection of the butte in the water, but the surface of the pond was so choppy due to the wind that the photo idea didn’t pan out. It was still a lovely scene!

Andy checks out the retention pond at the base of Red Butte

That evening the winds died down so we were able to once again have a campfire after dinner. There is an abundance of dry, dead wood lying around to use as fuel. It burns quickly, and it’s mostly cedar so it has a wonderful smell as it burns. We had the marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate bars for s’mores, but we got lazy and just toasted the marshmallows instead. That’s the best part anyway! 🙂

Andy gets the fire going for some toasted marshmallows

On Sunday morning I woke up feeling especially energetic for some reason, even though I had not slept well the night before. I decided it was time to tackle the Red Butte Trail.

Trailhead for Red Butte Trail

The trail is an out-and-back climb up the west slope of Red Butte, a distance of about 2.4 miles round trip with an elevation gain of 890 feet. The average time to complete the hike is 1.5-2 hours, and it’s rated as “Moderate” with steep switchbacks during the last 0.5 miles.

The prize for the climb, other than the amazing views, is reaching the Forest Service fire lookout station at the top of the butte. If you remember from one of my previous posts, I met Bruce, the lookout ranger, when he had hiked down from the station to deliver his pet goats to a lady from Williams who was adopting them. I was hoping to see Bruce at the top of the butte so I could find out more about how he handles life as a hermit in a station with no access other than by foot or helicopter.

I started the hike about 9:00 AM, climbing steadily along a well-marked path that was mostly open but which also passed plenty of trees that offered occasional shade. By about 30 minutes into the hike, I was really starting to feel the burn in my quads, but surprisingly I wasn’t as short of breath as I thought I might be. Fortunately we’ve been camping in this higher altitude long enough that I’ve become acclimated to the thinner air, so I wasn’t too bothered by oxygen deficiency. But I definitely felt challenged as I climbed higher and higher, and began to stop more often to enjoy the views, take a few photos and rest for a moment.

About halfway up, gorgeous view of the San Francisco Peaks from Red Butte

Just before 10:00 AM, I finished the last switchback and emerged at the very top of Red Butte–SUCCESS!! The trail continued across the level ground past some trees to the fire lookout station and the associated structures. As I approached the station, I shouted “Hello” several times to announce my presence, but it soon became apparent that no one was home.

Red Butte fire lookout station

Fortunately, the metal deck on the second floor of the station was unlocked, so I was able to climb the stairs and get a look at the view that Bruce gets when he’s on duty. The station is on the north side of the butte, so he has a direct view of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. From the southeast corner, he can also see those beautiful San Francisco Peaks. And he can see for miles and miles in every direction, especially on a clear day such as it was on that day.

View of the top of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon from the lookout station

The second floor of the station has big glass windows facing in every direction, and although I didn’t get to talk to the ranger, I was able to snap a photo of the inside of the station:

Inside the fire lookout station (photo taken through the window)

I spent almost a half hour at the top of the butte, just enjoying the scenery while re-energizing myself with a Clif Bar and some water. I also took a little time to look for a geocache that is supposedly hidden in the area, but according to the navigation on my app, it was located on a rocky ledge, and I just wasn’t comfortable getting that close to the edge when I was up there by myself. Oh, well, you win some, you lose some.

View of the San Francisco Peaks from the lookout station deck

It took me about 35 minutes to make the descent from the top of the butte to the trailhead. Going down was definitely easier on my lungs, but it took a toll on my left knee and my right foot, which have always bothered me on tougher hikes. Regardless of the discomfort, I had an immense sense of accomplishment and satisfaction after completing this hike–it’s the toughest one I’ve attempted in some time, and at the age of 60, it’s good to know that I can still complete challenges like this to see sights that most people will never experience. Besides, that’s what ibuprofen is for, right??

So that was Sunday. A beautiful, clear day in the outdoors.

Monday morning — different story.

As usual, I woke up early in the morning while Andy slept late. It was partly cloudy as the sun rose, but in the west I could see some dark clouds building. I knew the forecast called for some off-and-on light rain for the day, so I wasn’t surprised.

I fed the cats, and settled in at the dinette to enjoy my coffee and my breakfast while Andy snored away. The only sound was the occasional hum of the furnace fan as the heater kicked on.

All of a sudden, it sounded like a dump truck was depositing a load of gravel on our roof. Andy shot straight up in bed, the cats scattered, and I nearly spit out my coffee. A sudden hailstorm had started without warning, and when you live in an RV with plastic vent covers on your roof, it can scare the bejesus out of you. Fortunately the hailstones weren’t too large, but there were a lot of them, and we held our breath that they wouldn’t get any larger before the hail turned to rain.

That was Round 1.

Round 2 of the weird weather started about 30 minutes later after Andy had gone back to sleep. I started hearing little tapping noises on the roof again, and noticed that the rain was now mixed with sleet. What the heck?? It wasn’t supposed to be that cold! But sure enough, I could see it starting to accumulate under the trees and bushes.

“Well, that’s interesting!”, I thought.

Another half hour or so went by, and by then Andy had gotten up and was in the bathroom when I noticed another change.

Round 3 – Snow! Big, fluffy, wet flakes of snow were falling, and it was getting heavier by the minute. With the winds blowing about 25 MPH, it was quite impressive. And even though the temperatures were slightly above freezing, the snow had no problem sticking to all the vegetation and anything elevated off the ground. Before long we had another Winter Wonderland, the second one in a week.

The second snowfall in a week–this one totally unexpected

And just in case you’re reading this at some time in the future, please note the date that this happened: May 27, 2019, on Memorial Day, the unofficial start of summer. That’s just wrong!

Anyway, just like the previous snowfall, this one didn’t last long. It was completely melted away an hour after it had appeared, and all that was left was mud. By the middle of the afternoon, the clouds broke up enough to let the sun shine through a little bit to start drying things up. Today (Tuesday) it’s going to be cloudy for most of the day, though, so we still have a little drying to do.

So right now, we’re sitting in Starbucks in Tusayan, enjoying some free wi-fi with our coffee (the cellular service at our campsite is poor, so I come here to take care of our online life, doing the bookkeeping, and downloading books to our Kindles). Earlier we drove into the National Park to refill our drinking water jugs. We get free entrance to the Park with Andy’s senior pass, and once inside, the drinking water is free. We enjoyed lunch in Tusayan at a local pizza place we’ve visited before. In fact, they gave us the “local’s discount” of 20% since we were return customers–score!!

Pizza and Peroni in Tusayan – nice break from cabin fever

We’re winding down our stay in this area now. At this point we’re just waiting for a day with great weather so we can do a full day inside the Grand Canyon National Park, and after that we’ll be moving on, most likely to the Flagstaff area. The weather forecast is calling for temperatures to start moving into the more normal, warmer range over the next week, so we’re starting to think a little further into the future when temps start rising into the 80° and 90° range in this area. Our two most likely options are:

  • Go to New Mexico for awhile, using our annual pass to stay in state parks where we can get electrical hookups and run our air conditioner, or
  • Head to Colorado to higher elevations where the temperatures are cooler even in the summertime, assuming that we don’t run into problems with altitude sickness

We’ll probably do some combination of those two things, or maybe something totally different, who knows??

Anyway, this has been a lot of fun staying in this area, and we’ll definitely return here at some point. The boondocking options are plentiful, and being close to the National Park offers a lot of things to see and do, even if it means that we have to drive further to shop for groceries or do laundry (which is really starting to pile up now!!). 🙂

Red Butte. Yeah. I climbed to the top of that!!

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

Safe travels!

The Blooming Desert, Hiking, Geocaching, Wickenburg, Vulture City

Good Monday morning, everyone!

We just spent our tenth night here at our campsite on Vulture Mine Road just south of Wickenburg, Arizona. This spot is on BLM land which means it’s free camping, and it has quickly become one of our most favorite places we have ever camped.

Birds-eye view of our campsite on Vulture Mine Road

The scenery around here is just stunning, especially since there was so much rain over the winter months, resulting in what’s known as a “superbloom” when there is an abundance of wildflowers and green grass in the desert. People flock to the desert  from miles around to enjoy the beauty that lasts for such a short time. In fact, in California, the crowds were so large in Lake Elsinore that city officials had to temporarily close the wildflower viewing area when local facilities and infrastructure became overwhelmed. We have been so fortunate to be able to camp here at this exact time of year to be able to hike though the flowers and enjoy the beauty in peace and solitude.

Poppies among the saguaros in the Sonoran desert near our camp

We’ve done a lot of hiking over the past week, exploring the area in the hills and mountains around us. From the main road, there are lots of small gravel roads leading back into the desert that are used mainly by off-road vehicles and hikers. Many are marked with BLM signs with road numbers so you can report your position if you run into any trouble. We usually hike about 30 minutes in and then 30 minutes out, which gives us a good workout since a lot of the route involves uphill climbing. We’ve encountered rabbits, ground squirrels, lizards, one snake (non-venomous), and lots of different bird species. Yesterday, we suddenly found ourselves right next to a swarm of bees in a creosote bush–not sure how we got out without getting stung, but that was much more intense than our encounter with the snake!

I’ve done one geocache hunt since we’ve been here, and it was a fun one. It was located about 1.3 miles from our camp, as the crow flies, so about 1.5 miles on foot by the road. I found the cache in a palo verde tree, in a metal yard-art sculpture of a vulture. On the back of the vulture was a metal box containing the log and a bag of tokens that geocachers swap. I left one of my mini-dominoes and took a little plastic frog.

Geocache on Vulture Mine Road is a sculpture of a vulture. How appropriate!

We haven’t spent a whole lot of time in Wickenburg yet. The day after we arrived here, we drove in to McDonald’s to meet some of our friends from Phoenix who were passing through on their way to Las Vegas–that was fun! We’ve been to the grocery store (Safeway) a couple of times, to the laundromat, the post office, and a local Mexican restaurant called Lydia’s La Canasta for lunch. All these places are located right next to each other so there was no exploration involved. We do plan to spend a day checking out Wickenburg this week to see more of the historic sites and possibly the museum.

On Saturday we visited Vulture City, which is the site of the old original Vulture Mine community. According to one of the plaques at the site,

In 1863 Austrian Henry Wickenburg discovered gold, legend has it, while retrieving a vulture he had shot. The Vulture Mine went on to become one of Arizona’s richest gold mines and sparked the development of Arizona and the city of Phoenix. In the 1880’s and 1890’s, Vulture City’s population grew to almost 5000 people and featured a large stone assay office, miners’ dormitories, houses for company officials, a mess hall, a school, a post office, and an 80-stamp mill. It is estimated that the Vulture Mine produced more than 200 million dollars worth of gold and silver. The exact amount is unknown due to theft or “highgrading” for which some 18 men were hanged.

The mine was closed in 1942 during WWII by executive order from President Roosevelt, as being non-essential to the war effort. However, it was re-opened in 2014 and is currently back in production, in a much more modern mining effort that is, of course, closed to the public.

Inside the small museum in Vulture City, called Vulture’s Roost

But many of the original buildings are still there and available for tours. This area was purchased by an English developer who has invested about $2 million so far into restoring the old buildings which had fallen into disrepair. You can see Henry Wickenburg’s little house, the Assay Office, the bunkhouse, kitchen, dining hall, vault, post office, a gas station, and of course, the brothel. There’s even the hanging tree where 18 men were hanged for various offenses. There’s also a small museum with various photographs and artifacts from the site.

Vulture City, site of the old Vulture Mine, is being restored and is open for tours.

They charge $15 for the self-guided tour, which I think is a little steep for what you get to see, but it is an interesting way to spend an hour or two, if only to chat with Gary and Joyce, the couple who manage the site. They are actually miners themselves and own a small copper mine not far from here, which they work by hand. Joyce makes jewelry from the copper and stones that they retrieve from their mine. We love meeting people who have stories to tell, like Gary and Joyce!

So, what’s next?

Technically, there’s a 14-day limit to camping on BLM land, but we haven’t seen any evidence of enforcement in this area. If the weather never changed, we could stay here indefinitely, we enjoy it that much. But there are other sights we want to see, and we can already tell that the flowers and grass are starting to wilt and turn brown, so we will most likely be moving on by next weekend. Our next destination will be north of here, and higher in elevation–we just don’t know exactly where that’s going to be yet.

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!

 

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.

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!

 

Visiting the Center of the World, Plumbing Mystery Solved, Mountain Hiking, New RV Meal

We had a fun and productive weekend, enjoying some beautiful weather and exploring more of our surroundings. The only blight on an otherwise perfect three days was the inexplicable no-call on an obvious defensive pass interference in the NFC playoff game between the Saints and the Rams, which led to the Saints missing a trip to the Super Bowl. What is wrong with those officials???

Oh, well, now that I have that off my chest….

On Friday, we visited the “official” Center of the World, which just happens to be located just across I-8 from where we are camped, in a “town” called Felicity, California. From where we are parked, we can see a small white church perched on a hill overlooking some tan buildings and it looked interesting so we decided to check it out. I’m not sure I can even describe this place–it’s a little bit P. T. Barnum with just enough patriotism and religion thrown in to keep the donations coming (just my opinion).

Pyramid structure over the “official” Center of the World

The site was purchased and developed by a French immigrant, Jacques-Andres Istel, who was a U.S. Marine in the Korean War. With proceeds from his parachuting school business, he purchased the land and decided to develop it into something “entertaining”. He and his wife Felicia, who is Chinese-American, settled on the land and named it Felicity after his wife. He was elected mayor by a vote of 3-0 (not sure who the third person was).

He wrote a children’s book called “Coe The Good Dragon at the Center of the World”, and somehow he used that book to convince the Supervisors of Imperial County, California to pass a law officially designating Felicity, California as the Center of the World. Even more amazingly, he managed to get France to also recognize the geographical distinction….really, it’s so bizarre you need to just read about it here and here.

The “official” Center of the World inside the pyramid at Felicity, CA

Even with the strange back-story, it’s still an interesting place to visit. There’s a $3 entry fee which will let you see everything except for the inside of the pyramid, which is where the official Center of the World marker is located–you have to pay an extra $2 for that. Well, why not? We paid $5 each for the full experience which includes getting to stand inside the pyramid with both feet on the marker, look toward the church, make a wish, and have it recorded on an official numbered certificate showing that you were actually at the center of the world.

I kid you not.

Andy stands at the Center of the World and makes his wish.

North of the pyramid are large granite slates which are being etched with information along different themes. One section is a memorial to Korean War veterans. Once section is about animals. One section is U.S. History. One section has the history of Arizona on one side and California on the other. One section is the History of the World. The panels are actually quite interesting and nicely done, but many of them are still blank, to be completed as funds become available.

Granite slabs record major events in history.

To the north of the granite slates is the small church that Mr. Istel had built on top of the hill that he also had created just for the church. It’s a nice peaceful place, with pre-recorded instrumental hymns playing in the background, and it’s currently used for special events like weddings.

Church on the Hill at Felicity, CA

The newest structure in the complex is the “Maze of Honor” where you can pay to have an etched granite tile installed in the maze to commemorate a special occasion or a loved one, or yourself if you’re so inclined. Prices vary.

The Maze of Honor has a lot of empty space to be filled.

There is also a good-sized gift shop, as well as a small cafe that is open several hours a day. Oh, and lest I forget, there is also a section of spiral staircase that came from the Eiffel Tower in Paris. It’s a section that was deemed too dangerous for the public, so it was removed and auctioned off, and Mr. Istel bought it and installed it here on the property–a stairway to nowhere.

Giant checkerboard with the stairway to nowhere in the background

I admit, I’m a little cynical about the place, but you have to admit, it’s pure old American capitalism at work. Build it and they will come. It’s definitely worth a stop if you’re driving by and have some time, just for the quirkiness of it.

On Saturday morning we took another crack at trying to resolve the issue with our plumbing–even after installing the new pump, it was still making a very loud vibrating noise and there was air in the line. We checked all the connections and found a couple that were slightly loose, and we could see some tiny droplets of water on the floor under the inlet side of the pump. It wasn’t until I got a makeup mirror and a flashlight so I could see the backside of the fittings that I saw the problem. The strainer on the inlet line had a crack in it on the side that faced the wall. When Andy turned off the water, as soon as everything stopped vibrating I saw a small drop of water ooze through the crack.

Crack in the back side of the strainer was allowing air to enter the plumbing lines

Fortunately we had a spare strainer that came with the new pump that we installed last week. Andy swapped out the bad one for the new one and we ran the water long enough to clear the air from the line, and it appears that everything is as it should be now. Everyone knows that RV water pumps make a little bit of noise, and ours seems to be back in the normal range now.

Saturday afternoon we decided to do some mountain hiking around Pilot Knob, the mountain feature that’s right next to our campground. We saw a trail that winds around the flank of the mountain so it’s more horizontal than vertical, and it was perfect for our fitness and skill levels. We gained about 100-150′ in altitude so we got a good view of the area in the distance, including Mexico. As we were climbing up and down the rocky slopes, Andy noted that this time two years ago he was still using a cane after fracturing his leg and having surgery to repair it. We’re thankful that he’s recovered completely and can still hike with me!

Hiking on the flank of Pilot Knob, getting a good view of the area

Yesterday (Sunday) was pretty much a lazy day, although we did take a 45-minute walk around the perimeter of the campground in the morning. After lunch we watched both of the NFL playoff games in the RV, then after dinner we sat outside and watched the lunar eclipse until the moon was completely in shadow. I couldn’t stay awake long enough to watch it come back out the other side.

Speaking of dinner, we added another new dish to our RV cooking repertoire. We’ve used soy chorizo before when we could find it in Walmart (Frieda’s Soyrizo), where it runs between $3-$4. Recently we found another brand of soy chorizo, Raynaldo’s, at the Mexican market Cardenas in El Centro, where it was $1.79 so we decided to try it. I sauteed it with some onion and some green and red bell peppers, and served it over spaghetti squash (cooked in the Instant Pot), and it was delicious! We will definitely be looking for this brand of soyrizo in other Mexican grocery stores in the Yuma area.

Raynaldo’s Soy Chorizo sauteed with onions and peppers, served over steamed spaghetti squash with a side of broccoli

Today (Monday) is a clear day but it’s very windy so there’s a lot of dust in the air. Not the best day for hiking or sitting outside. We’ll probably do a little grocery shopping this afternoon to replenish our fresh produce. We’re having to leave the solar panels lying flat on the ground to keep them from blowing over and getting damaged. There are a couple of rigs parked close to us that have wind turbines on their roofs to generate electricity–we’re a little envious on days like this!! Winds are supposed to be even higher tomorrow, so we’ll have to see what we can do to entertain ourselves.

Thanks for reading our blog, and be sure to share it with friends and family members who might be interested in full-time RVing. You can also follow us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads to keep up with us between blog posts.

Safe travels!

Shopping in El Centro, Lunch With Friends, New Water Pump, Hiking On the Border

Wow, it’s been ten days since I last posted an update, but it’s been pretty quiet around here. Right now we’re just enjoying living our lives where the weather is mild and the neighbors aren’t crazy.

We are still trying to closely monitor our expenditures this month to offset the money we spent on the new solar system, batteries and toilet in November and December. So far we’re keeping our expenses low (knock on wood), thanks to our annual pass to the BLM LTVA and not moving the RV from spot to spot.

We’ve been doing our grocery shopping at Walmart in Yuma which is about seven miles east of us. Unfortunately we cannot bring oranges or other citrus fruit back into California from Arizona (there’s an agricultural inspection station on the way back to camp), and Andy eats an orange every morning for breakfast.

We checked the map for grocery stores west of us, and since there is nothing really close by, we decided to go to El Centro, California to get oranges. Based on Yelp! reviews of grocery stores in El Centro, we decided to go to Cardenas Mexican market, and it was a winner! They have amazing produce, baked goods, fresh tamales, a food court….just an awesome store. Of course we wound up buying more than just oranges. We each got a huge slice of their flan for $2.50 each, which gave us dessert for three meals. The flan was absolutely heavenly, some of the best we’ve ever had. We also bought almost two pounds of their flavored pistachios, some vegetable tamales and some assorted pastries. So even though we had to drive for almost an hour to get oranges, we considered it worth the trip.

Andy selecting oranges in the produce section of Cardenas in El Centro

We made a return trip to El Centro yesterday, thanks to an invitation from one of Andy’s Facebook friends, Grant Jones and his wife Cindy. Grant, like Andy, does lapidary work and makes beautiful handmade jewelry, and the two of them have been connected on Facebook for several years. They invited us to meet them in El Centro for lunch as they were on their way from San Diego to Quartzsite, and they let us pick the restaurant.

Since we aren’t that familiar with El Centro, once again I turned to Yelp! for reviews and found Antojitos  Como en Casa (“like at home”) Mexican restaurant. It’s a small place on the edge of a residential neighborhood, and when we pulled up, it was obvious that the food must be good because of the number of cars parked in the small lot and along the street. We enjoyed finally getting to meet Grant and Cindy, who treated us to some delicious traditional Mexican food and some great conversation. Thanks, you guys!

Lunch with Grant and Cindy in El Centro at Antojito Como en Casa

Of course, after we left the restaurant we made a return visit to Cardenas to get more oranges….and flan….and pistachios….and pastries. 🙂

One fact of life that all RVers have to accept is that there will always be some sort of repair or maintenance that needs to be done. This week it was the water pump. We were still getting water from the faucets, but ever since we’ve been in this campground, the pump had been making a really loud vibrating noise every time we ran the water. We noticed it after the first two times we dumped the tanks and refilled the fresh water tank. The noise would last for about 24 hours and then it would go back to normal (never silent, but a much quieter vibration when the water runs). But after the third time we dumped and refilled, the vibrations were loud again and stayed that way.

The water pump is located under the dinette seat. We pulled everything out of the dinette (table and cushions) and checked all the plumbing. We could see that there was a very small leak from the pump, and we could also see that when the pump vibrated, the vibration was carried along all the plumbing lines, in some cases causing them to vibrate against the wooden structure as well as the water tank itself, sort of like beating a drum.

Water pump located under the dinette, right next to the fresh water tank

Since there was a leak we decided to go ahead and replace the pump, so we called around Yuma and sourced a replacement unit for just under $100. We also wound up buying some foam rubber pipe insulation to wrap around the plumbing lines to help dampen the vibration. Handy Andy did a great job of installing the new pump, and although we still get a growling noise when the pump runs, it’s much quieter now. There does still seem to be some air in the lines that we can’t get rid of (possibly getting drawn into the line from a hairline crack in the input line?), but for the time being we’re living with it.

We’re still enjoying our hikes around the area. Last Sunday I took a look at Google satellite view of the area and noticed what looked like another quarry on the south side of the mountain we’re camped next to. I saw that the road that goes by our LTVA leads to a canal that runs along the US/Mexico border. The area looked interesting so we decided to hike it.

Satellite view of the area around Pilot Knob LTVA. The US/Mexico border is just to the south of the canal.

It was about a mile and a half from our RV to the canal, and then we hiked another half mile or so to the east along the canal. The area is beautiful in a rugged way with canyons and washes at the base of the mountain, and lush greenery and flocks of ducks along the irrigation canal. On the other side of the canal stands the steel-slat border fence, and on the other side of the fence is densely-populated Los Algodones and Pedregal. We could hear the sound of Spanish-language radio, roosters crowing, dogs barking, and people carrying on their day-to-day conversations. It was totally peaceful and serene.

Hiking along the All-American irrigation canal, beyond which is the border fence and then Mexico

The area that had looked like a quarry in the Google satellite view was actually an area on top of a mesa that had been scraped by something like a bulldozer. The dark areas in the picture are covered with rocks that most likely came to the surface from ancient volcanic activity (Pilot Knob is geologically a volcanic “plug”). We found all kinds of agate, jasper, quartz, and even a large chunk of petrified wood. Andy was drooling over all these amazing stone specimens, but of course he doesn’t have the lapidary equipment to make cabochons any more, so we left the rocks in place.

This is what we thought was a quarry, but turned out to be bulldozed areas on a mesa.

By the time we got back to camp we had covered a little over four miles on our very enjoyable hike.

Otherwise, we’ve just been living life. On Saturday and Sunday we watched some football (Go Saints!! Who-Dat!!). We had a good bit of rain on Monday night and Tuesday morning and things got pretty muddy, but by the next day it was almost all dried up. We took advantage of the rainy day to get the laundry done and do some grocery shopping, and treated ourselves to lunch at Olive Garden in Yuma. I’m also continuing to do some geocaching in the area, although I’ve found almost all the ones that are within hiking distance except for the ones that are at the top of the mountain–I’m not crazy enough to risk a fall to log a geocache.

So that’s what we’re up to! We’ve been here for three weeks now, and haven’t yet even considered where we might go next. For the moment we are happy right where we are. There’s still some sight-seeing that we want to do in the area, so we’re not bored yet!

Rainy days often result in gorgeous sunsets

Thanks for taking time to read our blog, and be sure to share it with others who might be interested in full-time RV life. You can also follow us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads to keep up with us between blog posts.

Safe travels, and GO SAINTS!! WHO DAT!! 🙂