Christmas Remembrances, New Toilet Install, Tamales With Friends, Moving to California

We spent a fairly quiet Christmas Day in Glendale, Arizona after almost a week of hustle and bustle. I baked some cinnamon rolls for breakfast, and then around 11:00 AM I started a seitan pot roast in the crock pot for our vegan dinner. (If you’re not familiar with seitan, here a link to find out more.) While dinner was cooking, we took some time to visit the gravesites of Andy’s mom and dad and place some Christmas decorations on their markers.

A Christmas visit to the resting place of Andy’s parents

We also placed flowers on the marker for Andy’s aunt and uncle who are buried in the same cemetery. This was the first time in several years that we have been able to visit these memorials, and it was nice to be able to do so on Christmas Day.

The day after Christmas (Wednesday) was a whirlwind of activity as we were trying to get all our chores done before it was time to leave Glendale. In addition we had been invited to a Christmas party by one of Andy’s former co-workers, so we had to hustle.

The top priority of the day was to get the new toilet installed, but first we wanted to flush the black tank. If you’re not familiar with RV black tanks, they have sensors installed inside them that are connected to the control panel, and they are supposed to let you know how full your tank is getting. But over time, “debris” can accumulate on the sensors, and it can appear that your tank is more full than it is. We used a pressure wand made specifically for flushing black tanks, hooked it up to the water hose, stuck it down through the toilet valve, and cleaned the tank thoroughly.

After cleaning the tank, Andy removed the old toilet with the malfunctioning foot pedal (it would no longer consistently turn off the water flow after flushing, which could have potentially caused a flood in the RV), and then installed our new Thetford toilet. It was actually a pretty quick process, and since the black tank had been flushed, there was no problem with smell.

Removing the old toilet

Once again, we were thankful that the timing of this repair worked out like it did, with us being close to a Camping World store, plus having full hookups with water and sewer, along with a dumpster to dispose of the old toilet. Things really do just work out.

After the toilet installation, I did some more housekeeping in the RV, and then we made a run to the post office to check on our Escapees mail (still had not arrived), and then to the grocery store to stock up on fresh vegetables and fruit (which became a little bit of an issue as you’ll see shortly).

That night, we finally got to have some fun, as we attended a Christmas party in the home of one of Andy’s former co-workers, Angelica, and her son, Devon. Angelica has a tradition of hosting a get-together for her family and friends on the night AFTER Christmas, which I think is brilliant. She served a traditional meal of tamales (both spinach/cheese and red with meat), along with pozole (soup or stew made with pork), rice and beans. Although we don’t usually eat meat, we decided not long ago to make an exception when someone invites us into their home–we eat what they prepare. And the food was all delicious. We enjoyed getting to meet Angelica’s family and friends, catching up on work-related gossip, participating in the Dirty Santa gift exchange, and then being presented with a to-go bag of tamales and homemade fudge. Thanks again, Angelica and Devon, for sharing your Christmas holiday gathering with us. We love you!

Good food, good friends Angelica and Devon

After we got back from the Christmas party, we finally sat down at the computer to figure out where we wanted to go next. We knew we wanted to move toward southwestern Arizona where the weather is warmer for the winter, but the area can get quite crowded with all the snowbirds. (Haha, when we lived in Glendale we used to complain about all the snowbirds tying up traffic and crowding the restaurants, and now we’re part of the “problem”!!) We knew we wanted to boondock to save money, but we are not familiar with the area and didn’t want to risk trying to find an offgrid site on some random gravel road after dark.

We finally decided to take advantage of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Long Term Visitor Areas (LTVAs), located in Arizona and California. The BLM has seven winter LTVAs where you can set up camp for an extended length of time by paying one fee. For $180, you can get a permit to use the LTVA from September through the following April, and that includes being able to move from one LTVA to another. Unfortunately, they do NOT prorate the cost of the permit, so even though it’s now the end of December, the permit is still $180. If you’re interested in learning more about LTVA’s here’s a link to a great summary on FreeCampsites.net. Unfortunately, the BLM website is down right now due to the government shut-down, so I can’t direct you to their official information.

We elected to head to the Pilot Knob LTVA which is located just west of Yuma, right across the California state line. We chose this location because of its proximity to good grocery shopping in Yuma as well as a popular border crossing into Mexico at Los Algodones. We love walking across the border for good Mexican food, and Los Agodones is known for its pharmacies, dentists and eye doctors who cater especially to Americans who are tired of paying exorbitant prices for healthcare in the U.S.

So yesterday (Thursday), we broke camp in Glendale, leaving the mobile home park where we had stayed for a week. While Andy drove the RV to Costco to top off the propane, I made one more trip to the post office to check on our mail from Escapees, and unfortunately it still had not arrived. As far as I know, there is nothing urgent or time-sensitive in the packet, so it will eventually be returned to Livingston where our mail service can add it to a future shipment. This was the first time we didn’t use Priority Mail when requesting our mail packet, and with the holidays, it just took too long to arrive. Lesson learned: we will always request Priority Mail on future mail forwarding requests.

Our route from Glendale AZ to Pilot Knob LTVA in Winterhaven, CA

We had a nice drive on our travels, stopping for lunch in Gila Bend in the large parking lot of a Shell station. Honestly, one of my favorite parts of this lifestyle are our lunches in random parking lots–it’s so cool to have our refrigerator, stove, dining table, and kitchen sink right there with us in climate-controlled comfort while we watch the big trucks and other travelers come and go. We prepared our normal lunch, washed the dishes, and then hit the road again.

We made a final stop for gasoline at a Love’s station in Yuma, knowing that the gas prices would be much higher once we crossed the state line into California. We paid $2.54/gallon at Love’s, and the price at the Chevron station just outside our new campsite in California is $4.79/gallon. We will definitely be driving the seven miles back into Yuma when we need to fill up the gas tank.

The next tricky part of the trip was going through the agricultural inspection station right before we got to our campground. When arriving in California, your vehicle can be inspected for fresh fruits and vegetables that might be carrying diseases or pests that can contaminate and possibly cause financial loss to the California farming areas. As I mentioned above, we had just bought groceries before leaving Glendale, and we had plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables in the RV. We didn’t want to toss them out without at least trying to see if they would let us keep them.

When we got to the inspection station, they were pretty much just waving the passenger cars through. But when Andy pulled the RV up to the inspector, the guy asked him if he was carrying any fruits or vegetables, and hey, we’re not gonna lie. Andy told him what we had and told him he was welcome to come inside the RV to check it out, which he did. The inspector was especially interested in the oranges, which we had purchased at Walmart and did not have stickers on them showing the origin. However, I guess he didn’t think it was worth the hassle, because he said “Those look like California oranges to me”, and let us go through. Whew!!

The Pilot Knob BLM site is just about a mile past the inspection station, and we pulled in about 3:30 PM PST (we also changed time zones and gained an hour when we hit California). We met the camp host, a nice lady named Joann, who told us that even though the BLM is shut down, they had contacted her and told her that they should still collect the fees. The LTVA is all dispersed camping, meaning there are no designated campsites, you just look for a level area of open space and park your RV. It helps if you can find an area where the previous occupant might have left a fire ring of rocks, indicating that it’s probably a good level place to camp. We found a nice spot, although it took us a little time to position the RV where it was as level as possible, then went back to the entrance to pay our annual $180 fee and get our permit stickers for the vehicles.

Setting up camp at sunset at Pilot Knob LTVA

We can see I-8 from our campsite, but there’s really not a lot of traffic noise. There is also a train track running along the interstate, and we can definitely hear the train horns but after awhile you don’t notice them. Finally, there is a military base near here, so we get some flyovers of helicopters from time to time.

We were afraid the LTVA would be crowded already with snowbirds, but Joann told us that it hasn’t been nearly as crowded this year as it has been in the past. She said that the younger people aren’t coming here like the older ones did. Fine with me, more space for us! There are some beautiful big rigs parked here, as well as some older, smaller trailers and vans. We love the variety of neighbors, especially since there’s plenty of space and privacy around us.

Our new desert campsite by the mountains

So that’s where we are this morning, in the BLM Pilot Knob LTVA located in Winterhaven, California. We have no idea how long we will stay in this one location. We are paid up through April, but will most likely move up closer to Quartzsite, Arizona to the La Posa LTVA once the huge crowds leave at the end of January. One drawback to our current location is that there is no dump station or water spigots in the campground, although there are facilities fairly close by with those amenities, sometimes for a fee. If we move to the LTVA in Quartzsite, they do have those amenities available in the campground itself, included in the permit that we’ve already purchased.

Today we’re going to relax and enjoy our new surroundings. Andy is going to work on getting our solar system up and running now that we’re back in the sunshine.

I want to send a special shout-out to my Dad. Yesterday as we were driving into Yuma, I briefly caught a glimpse of a text message notification that popped up momentarily on my iPhone which was, at the time, being used for navigation. All I saw in that quick glance was “am at the ER in Tupelo with your dad“. As soon as we got stopped at the Love’s station, I checked the text and found that my 82-year-old Daddy was in the hospital for an emergency appendectomy. I managed to get in touch with Mom to get details, and long story short, he had a successful surgery and this morning he’s on his way home with very minimal pain or discomfort. Hooray! Love you, Daddy!

This is the one regret I have about this lifestyle–not being close to family for events like this. When we lived in Tupelo, we were able to quickly drive to the hospital to be with family members when they were sick. Fortunately that doesn’t happen very often, and none of us should put our lives on hold just waiting for some catastrophe to happen. But know this–if anyone in either of our families has an emergency and needs us, we will be on the next flight out to get back to them. We will figure it out. We will make it happen. We both love our families and miss them while we’re on the road!

Be sure to follow us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads to keep up with what we’re doing between blog posts. And feel free to share this blog with your family and friends who might be interested in full-time RV life!

Winter Is Coming So Why Aren’t We Moving?

So far our return visit to Leasburg Dam State Park has been nice. The afternoon temperatures have been in the low-to-mid 70s with clear blue skies and very low humidity. It gets pretty windy starting about lunchtime and stays that way until a couple of hours after sundown, but there’s not a lot of dust blowing around, so it’s okay.

I go hiking every day on the trails here in the park which lead down to the Rio Grande river and then to an overlook near the Leasburg Dam. Since we were here last month, a flock of ducks has moved in on the river, presumably on their migration route. We’ve also seen rabbits and roadrunners in our campsite.

On Wednesday we drove into Las Cruces to do some grocery shopping. We ate lunch at Chipotle, then we hit Walmart and Sprouts. While at Walmart we picked up a small runner rug for the RV to help insulate the floor a little bit on those cold mornings (keep reading to find out why!). After we finished shopping, we stopped at Starbucks to treat ourselves to some coffee and some wi-fi.

Wednesday night we finally had a campfire after more than two months on the road. We had bought a bag of marshmallows weeks ago and it had been taking up space in our pantry bin, so I was glad to finally get to open it. We like campfires but neither of us like the smell that gets into our clothes from the smoke. We had to close all the windows on the RV because the smoke was being drawn inside the rig. But it was still a nice touch of “atmosphere” for the campsite.

Our first campfire marshmallows since hitting the road

While we enjoyed the campfire, I set up my GoPro on a tripod in a nearby empty campsite and programmed it to record a timelapse of the stars. I’m still learning how to do timelapses with this camera, especially the night lapses of the stars. I attached a power stick to the camera so the battery would last longer. I started shooting at 6:45 PM, and when I went to retrieve the camera at about 12:30 AM, there was about 7% battery remaining. If you know anything about shooting timelapse at night, you’ll understand when I say that 5 hours and 45 minutes of shooting yielded a video that lasts just over 21 seconds. It didn’t turn out quite as well as I hoped it would but it’s okay. Here’s a look at the raw, unedited version–you have to watch it in full screen view on a larger screen to really see the stars.

Yesterday (Thursday) we drove to Hatch to pick up our mail which had been forwarded from our mail service in Livingston, Texas. Since Hatch is the chili capital of the world, we just had to make a quick stop at one of the local chili roasters to check out their wares. We got a jar of homemade salsa, and jar of pickled peppers, and a small bag of dried mango coated with chili spice (not made locally). We enjoyed chatting with the local folks while we were there–well worth the stop!

Checking out the goods at Hot Damn Chile in Hatch, NM

So life is pretty normal, just enjoying the sunshine and the surroundings.

But things are about to change.

Our plan has always been to follow the weather, chasing 70° as they say. But sometimes life throws you a curveball.

Andy has a several prescriptions that he takes, one of which he orders through Humana’s mail order service so he can get a 90-day supply at a time. When it came time to reorder, he went to their website and clicked on the button that said something like “one-click order”. He said he thought it would take him to a form he could fill out to give them an address–guess he’s not familiar with “one-click” ordering. And unfortunately, he had never given them our new Livingston address.

So as soon as he placed the order, he got confirmation that the prescription would be shipped, but it was going to our old address in Tupelo.

That wasn’t good.

He called Humana to see if he could get the address changed for the shipment. Well, of course that led to a two-hour conversation. Since the new address is in Texas, that means he’s in a different plan market, so they had to set him up on a new Medicare Part D plan. The monthly premium didn’t change, it just took a lot of time on the phone. At the end of the conversation, he asked them if they could change the address on the outgoing shipment, and they assured him that they would.

Yeah……right.

The shipment went to Tupelo first, and then it was forwarded to our address in Livingston. That took over a week. Once it got to Livingston, we had to put in a request to have it forwarded to the local post office here in Radium Springs, NM, general delivery. It was mailed out on Wednesday, and is expected to arrive here in Radium Springs sometime next Tuesday.

Fortunately he has plenty of medication to last until the new shipment arrives. But it does present us with a chilly dilemma.

Weather forecast is chilly!

There’s a cold front moving this way and the temperatures are going to drop significantly over the weekend. Nighttime temperatures will be well below freezing on Monday and Tuesday. Under normal circumstances, we would be pulling up stakes today and moving toward Arizona, but we need to stick around here and wait for Andy’s prescription to arrive.

We’ve never camped in the RV in temperatures below freezing, but we’re making preparations. The rig does have an onboard propane furnace. Since we’re hooked up to electricity here, we’ll also be using our electric heater. Yesterday, we unpacked some of our winter clothes from the storage bins in the Tacoma, and we’ve got plenty of blankets in the rig.

At night, we’ll unhook the water hose from the outside faucet and drain it so it doesn’t freeze and burst. We’ll use our onboard water tank instead. The rig also has tank heaters that should keep the black and gray tanks from freezing up overnight.

We’ll also see about hanging an extra blanket from the over-cab storage platform to block off the cab portion of the RV since a lot of cold air comes in that way.

Ironically, the temperatures are supposed to go back up into the 60’s once we get past Tuesday, so if we don’t freeze to death over the weekend, we may wind up staying here for the full two weeks, through the following Saturday night. The price is right ($4/night) and we save fuel by not moving, but that savings can be wiped out if we’re using a lot of propane to run the furnace.

We shall see!

Anyway, life is good! We’re happy, healthy and enjoying every day to the fullest!

Turning 60 in Albuquerque and Santa Fe NM

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

Both of those goals were accomplished as of Wednesday!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Annapurna’s World Vegetarian Cafe in Santa Fe, NM

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

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

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

Vegan coconut pie at Annapurna’s

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

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

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

Inside the Cathedral of St. Francis

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

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

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

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

Vintage trailers and Hudson automobiles here at Enchanted Trails RV Park

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

Main post office in Albuquerque

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

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

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

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

Toilet Surgery, Rain and Birthday Shopping

I am pleased to report that our toilet repair project was successful! Andy had done a lot of research by watching YouTube videos and even contacting the manufacturer to make sure he was clear on how to go about removing the toilet, replacing the seals and then reattaching everything. And all that research paid off with a relatively painless process.

The one thing we were most worried about was how bad it would smell in the RV while the drain pipe was open. Actually there was little to no smell at all (we did dump the tanks first, and also added a deodorizing packet to the tank). The worst thing that happened was when we turned the water back on–we had a leak where the water line attached to the back of the toilet. The connection was supposed to be “finger tight”, but obviously that wasn’t tight enough and it required more tightening with pliers. We think that this connector was the source of our slow leak all along rather than the seals, but it was good to go ahead and do a complete maintenance job anyway on such an important piece of equipment.

If anyone is interested in seeing how the project went, we recorded most of it on the GoPro and posted it to our YouTube channel:

We had hoped to do some sight-seeing on Friday but it rained almost the entire day with only a slight pause in the afternoon, just enough time for a short walk to get some fresh air. We spent the day reading, editing the video above, housecleaning–all those normal little chores you do on a cool, rainy day.

A rainy, cloudy day at our campground

Yesterday (Saturday) it was time to go to town for groceries and supplies, as well as some birthday shopping. My 60th birthday is coming up next week, and I wanted (actually needed) a new pair of hiking shoes, as well as some long-sleeved pullover shirts for cooler weather. The forecast is calling for a big drop in temperatures on Monday, and I wanted to be ready.

So we drove into Las Cruces, and first went to Jason’s Deli for lunch. I like Jason’s because they have good meatless options on their menu, and Andy likes Jason’s because they have free ice cream for dessert. Next we went to Dick’s Sporting Goods where I picked out a pair of hiking shoes and some warm socks. Perhaps “picked out” is too strong a term–it was actually the only pair they had in my size. No problem, I liked them anyway.

Birthday gifts from the hubby–new warm clothes!

Next stop was Walmart where we did most of our grocery shopping. I also picked up three long-sleeve pullover shirts there to complete my birthday shopping. Last stop was Sprouts for some red lentils from their bulk bins. And to my delight, they also had just put out their stock of cinnamon gummy bears for the holidays–my favorite!

Even though we ate lunch at Jason’s, we still eat almost all our meals at home in the RV, and cook almost everything from scratch. Last night I used both of our Instant Pots to cook dinner, making brown rice in the 3-quart Mini Duo and red lentil curry in the 6-quart Duo. We had enough leftover for two more meals, so half went in the fridge for our next travel day, and half went in the freezer. Having leftovers in the refrigerator takes a lot of the pressure off when we pull into a new campground after a long day of driving.

Two Instant Pots for a rice and curry dinner

Today the weather is supposed to be pretty nice, so we’re hoping to do a little sightseeing. Tomorrow a cold front will arrive, dropping the temperatures by almost 25°.  The high today (Sunday) is forecast at 72°, by Tuesday the forecast high is 48°.

Now you know why I wanted those warmer shoes and shirts!

We only have two more nights here at Leasburg Dam State Park. Tuesday we will be driving north to Albuquerque where we will stay for three nights at the Enchanted Trails RV Park. While there, we will be able to pick up our mail which has been forwarded to us from our mailbox in Livingston, Texas. The mail pouch will include our absentee ballots so we can vote in the mid-term elections.

And that’s what’s going on in our lives right now. The kitties are doing fine, we’re healthy and happy, and we’re loving our new lifestyle on the road.

Stay tuned for more updates as we get ready to move to our next destination! You can also follow us on Instagram @JustCallUsNomads!