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!

 

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

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

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

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

We started the month of May parked in a free dispersed camping spot in the Coconino National Forest on Forest Road 237 (also known as Pumphouse Wash) off Highway 89A southwest of Flagstaff, Arizona. We had planned to be there for two weeks, but at the end of the first week, the weather forecast began showing heavy rain and cold weather moving in, so we decided to leave the woods (and the mud) for a few days. We moved to Williams, Arizona to the Grand Canyon Railway RV Park where we enjoyed full hook-ups as well as access to showers and laundry facilities for a week. This park is part of the Passport America program of which we are members, so we were able to stay there for half-price. At the end of the week, we went back to boondocking, moving to another National Forest free campsite on Forest Road 320 off Highway 64, south of Tusayan, Arizona. After seventeen nights in that location (yeah, we really liked it!), we moved back toward Flagstaff to our current free boondocking site in the Coconino National Forest on Forest Road 151 (also known as Hart Prairie Road), off Highway 180 northwest of Flagstaff.

All set up and ready to enjoy our new home for the next few weeks

We spent a lot of time this month in areas that are heavily dedicated to tourism. The town of Williams is located on Historic Route 66, Tusayan is the gateway to the Grand Canyon National Park, and we also spent a day in Sedona. We spent a lot more on eating out this month, due not only to the higher prices of restaurant meals in these tourist areas, but also because we ate out more often. The weather in May was cold and wet on many days, and we would get cabin fever and head to the restaurants just to get out of the rig. Oh, well, at least our grocery bill was down!

Here are our expenses for the past three months:

Camping fees + Electricity

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

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

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

Nine month average: $182

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

DUMPING FEEs

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

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

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

Nine month average: $31

Fuel for the RV

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

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

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

Nine month average: $150

Spring has sprung at Pumphouse Wash

Fuel for the Truck

March: $92 (36 gal, 18.9 MPG)

April: $130 (45 gal, 18.2 MPG)

May: $115 (37 gal, 19.6 MPG)

Nine month average: $132

PROPANE

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

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

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

Nine month average: $41

Snow-covered truck and rig

groceries

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

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

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

Nine month average: $504

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

dining out

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

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

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

Nine month average: $244

Pizza and Peroni in Tusayan – nice break from cabin fever

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

household / furnishings

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

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

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

Nine month average: $153

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

petcare

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

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

May: $24 – Just food and litter.

Nine month average: $62

These numbers include cat food, litter, treats and the occasional toy for our two kitties, Maggie and Molly. Will also include vet visits when needed.

Maggie and Molly soaking up some sunshine after days of clouds and rain

verizon cellphone / internet

March: $276

April: $276

May: $276

Nine month average: $268

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

mail forwarding

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

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

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

Nine month average: $19

Laundry

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

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

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

Nine month average: $19

attractions / entertainment

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

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

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

Nine month average: $82

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

Hanging out at the overlook at the Powell Memorial at the Grand Canyon

memberships

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

April: $0

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

Nine month average: $46

Equipment for RV

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

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

May: $0 – Hallelujah!!

Nine month average: $329 (Includes over $2K in solar equipment purchased in November 2018.)

RV Maintenance & REpairs

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

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

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

Nine month average: $89

Handy Andy doing some rig maintenance while the sun shines

truck maintenance & repairs

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

April: $0

May: $0

Nine month average: $9

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

Vehicle insurance

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

VEhicle License and registration

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

Summary

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

March Total: $2,257

April Total: $2,495

May Total: $2,337

Nine month average: $2,498

The lesson we learned this month is that we have to be more conscious of the costs associated with staying near popular tourist destinations. While we’re not going to deny ourselves the occasional splurge, we can definitely do a better job of managing our spending in restaurants and even on our groceries. We do enjoy delicious plant-based food, but our goal for June is to try to be more mindful of what our indulgences cost us.

While May was unusually cold and wet, the forecast for June is looking more normal in terms of temperatures, and so we’ve already started moving to higher elevations. We’re currently at about 8,100′ just southwest of Flagstaff, and the high temperatures for the next two weeks are forecasted to remain in the 60’s and 70’s. We plan to stay in the Flagstaff area as long as we can (but we’ll have to move to a new campsite when our 14 days are up here), and we’re hoping that we can make it through the entire month of June in this area.

Beautiful view of Humphrey’s Peak from our front yard

We’ll continue to closely monitor our expenses and will report them here on a monthly basis. So if you’re interested, be sure to subscribe to this blog so you get all our updates. You can also find us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads to stay up with us between blog posts.

A Day at the Grand Canyon, Move to Higher Elevation Near Flagstaff

The last couple of days have been busy and fun, which was a nice change after being limited in our activities due to the unsettled weather.

We had been parked in the same spot on Forest Road 320 south of Tusayan for over two weeks, waiting for a day of perfect weather to spend inside Grand Canyon National Park. We finally got that perfect day on Wednesday. Andy even woke up at daybreak (and that’s almost unheard of!) so we could get an early start and beat the crowds.

We decided to stop for a quick breakfast at McDonald’s in Tusayan instead of making breakfast in the rig, in order to save a little time. Andy had the pancakes and I had the oatmeal, and we each had two hashbrowns plus coffee. The total bill came to $26.23. When did McDonald’s get so pricey?? Yeah, I know, these are tourist prices.

We arrived at the entrance to the park about 8:00 AM, at which time they only had two of the five gates open, but there was only one car in front of us. That was a good sign! We decided to park in Lot A, which is centrally located next to the Park Headquarters. At that time, probably 70-80% of the parking spaces were empty.

From the parking lot, we walked the short half-mile trail that leads directly to the Rim Trail. It’s always such a rush to walk out of the trees and suddenly be confronted with this unimaginably beautiful vista of stone and sky–layer upon layer of multi-colored rock, with a ribbon of green vegetation at the bottom and a clear blue sky with a few fluffy clouds above. We’ve been to this spot many times, and it never fails to leave us speechless.

View of the canyon from the Rim Trail near Park Headquarters

There was a time in my younger days when I would go to the very edge, sit down and dangle my legs while taking in the view. Now that I’m older and wiser, I stay at least a foot back from the edge–yeah, I know that’s not much better, but it’s the only way to really come close to grasping the magnitude of what you’re seeing.

Andy looks so tiny at the top of this chasm

We walked westward along the Rim Trail, taking in the view along the way. The Park has created an exhibit along the trail, called the “Trail of Time“, to help visitors get a grasp of the time scales involved in the formation of the different layers of rock in the canyon walls. There are brass markers embedded in the walkway about 1 meter apart, each representing 1 million years in geological time. At the point in “time” that each new layer appeared, they have a big sample chunk of that rock on display that you are encouraged to touch and examine. Of course, with Andy being a rock hound, we enjoyed that interactive display immensely.

When we arrived at the Village, we went into the El Tovar Hotel to take a little break from the walking. The inside of this historic building looks like an old hunting lodge, with taxidermied animal heads hanging all over the walls. We rested our feet in the lobby, used the facilities and then headed out to catch the shuttle bus to Hermit’s Rest.

Inside the El Tovar hotel in Grand Canyon Village

Before we got on the shuttle bus, however, we decided to hike a short ways down Bright Angel Trail, along with the hordes of other visitors. Keeping in mind that “what goes down must hike back up”, we didn’t descend too far, but we did get far enough to see the canyon from a different angle.

Checking out the scenery on Bright Angel Trail

View from our vantage point. You can see more of the trail below us.

The Red Line of the shuttle bus service connects the Village to Hermit’s Rest, with about nine stops along the way. It’s free, and it’s pretty much the only way besides hiking or biking to see the west end of the canyon, since that route is closed to vehicle traffic. You can hop off and on the bus at any of the stops, spending as much time as you like at each location before moving on.

Hanging out at the overlook at the Powell Memorial

The view from Hopi Point, with a glimpse of the Colorado River far below

We made it to Hermit’s Rest a little after 11:30 AM, where it was cool, overcast and windy. We visited the snack bar and got a cup of what was listed as “hot apple cider” (pretty sure it was an instant mix with boiling water poured in). The sandwiches and snacks were outrageously overpriced, so we passed on those. It took awhile to finish the “cider” since it was so hot, but we enjoyed a nice conversation with a woman from Iowa while we waited for it to cool.

Enjoying a hot drink at Hermit’s Rest

We arrived back at the Village around 12:30 and decided to have lunch at the Bright Angel Lodge. They had some nice vegan and vegetarian options on their menu. Andy had the veggie quesadilla and fries. I had the “protein bowl” which was a mix of quinoa, grains, shredded carrots and parsnips, blackened chickpeas, avocado and brussels sprouts, with a delicious lemon vinaigrette dressing. We finished the meal with their house-made bread pudding that was scrumptious!

The protein bowl at Bright Angel Lodge’s restaurant

After we finished lunch we caught the Blue Line shuttle that took us back to our parking lot after winding through the Village and giving us a view of some of the areas we hadn’t seen before, such as the train depot and the mule corral. It was almost 3:00 by then, and although we had planned to drive to the east end of the canyon, we decided it was too late in the day to do it justice, so we’ll save that adventure for another day.

It was a beautiful day, and a fitting finale to our stay on Forest Road 320. It’s been one of our favorite places to camp, and one that we plan to return to in the future.

The clouds at sunset over Red Butte

Yesterday (Thursday) it was time to leave this camp after 17 nights, and move on to higher altitudes as warmer temperatures are forecasted for the next couple of weeks. We wanted to get back to the North Flagstaff area, so we did some research on FreeCampsites.net and Campendium.com to identify some potential camping spots. We found two that sounded good–always nice to have a backup.

So we got everything packed up and stowed away, and pulled out of camp around 10:00 AM. Andy drove the rig back into Tusayan to dump the tanks and fill up on propane and fresh water, and then we headed toward Flagstaff on Highway 180. We ran into some rain along the way, and came through one area that had just had a hailstorm that had left hailstones in drifts on the road.

Our first potential campsite was just off Snowbowl Road, the road that goes from Hwy 180 up to the ski area. Because we weren’t sure what condition the road to the campsites would be in, we decided that Andy would park the rig at the base of the road in an empty parking lot and I would take the truck on a scouting expedition. It was a good call, because the forest road to the campsites was extremely rocky, rutted and wet. Additionally, the campsites were pretty much just small clearings tucked among the pine trees, and would have been hard to get the rig into, much less have any sun for our solar panels. I drove back and reported to Andy that we needed to keep looking, so I then drove to our second option.

The second choice that we had found on the apps was on a forest road accessed from Shultz Pass Road just inside the Flagstaff city limits. I found Shultz Pass Road, but when I got to the forest road, it was closed due to logging activity in the area. So that was a bust.

Fortunately we have learned the secret of Forest Roads–the entrances to the roads are well marked on the highway, and many of them are very well maintained, and they have dispersed camping spots cleared out all along the way. We had passed a few Forest Roads (a.k.a. “fire roads”) on our approach to Flagstaff, so I decided to head back north to explore some more.

The first Forest Road I came to was FR 151 and it looked to be in great shape in spite of the recent rains that had come through the area in the morning. I started driving down the road which turned into a climb up the mountain, passing several potential camping spots along the way. Finally, about two miles up the hill, I found it–the perfect spot!

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

In fact, it was so perfect that I didn’t want to leave it and risk someone else taking it. So I texted a photo and the GPS coordinates to Andy for his approval, and he signed off. He then drove the rig to the nearest gas station to fill the tank (it was a short drive but we want plenty of fuel to run the generator if needed), and he finally arrived at our new campsite around 1:45 PM.

We got everything set up and had a late lunch of leftover pizza, and then just relaxed for the rest of the day. There were a few very short light rain showers, typical in the mountains where we are, at about 8100′ elevation.

All set up and ready to enjoy our new home for the next few weeks

I got up on the roof of the RV and recorded a short video showing a 360° view of our surroundings. I posted it to YouTube, so you can catch it here:

We’re looking forward to spending more time here in Flagstaff. It’s funny, we always wanted to live in Northern Arizona, in the Flagstaff or Prescott area, but we knew it would probably be prohibitively expensive. And now, here we are, living in those very areas, but only at the time of year when the weather is the absolute best. How cool is that?? Today we’ll do some exploring of the area on foot (there are some geocaches nearby!!), and tomorrow we will most likely need to do some grocery shopping and other errands.

Speaking of tomorrow, it’s hard to believe that May is coming to an end and June starts tomorrow. And since it’s the end of the month, it’s time for our latest expense report on our full-timing life. Be sure to watch for that report in our next blog post if you’re interested in what it costs us to live on the road.

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

Safe travels!

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!

Towing vs Driving, Plans Change Again, Scouting Near the Grand Canyon

Happy Mothers Day to all you wonderful maternal people out there! Today is one of those days that I really miss being near my family, especially my own amazing Mom. I hope you all have a beautiful day with all the happiness you so richly deserve!

Today is our last full day here at the Grand Canyon Railway RV Park in Williams, Arizona. We’ve been parked here for a week while this freaky weather system moves through. We’re finally getting more hours of sunshine than rain and the temperatures are starting to warm up a little bit. It’s been nice to have the full hookups here with unlimited electricity, water and sewage dump. We hooked up to the TV cable, but haven’t used it at all–we just don’t watch TV anymore.

On Friday we decided to check out some other camping options in the Williams area. We first drove down a Forest Service Road to look for some free boondocking sites. We found a lot of people camped out there, but it was extremely muddy from all the rain. There were some large ruts in some of the empty campsites where it looked like folks had struggled to get their rigs out. It’s a beautiful area, and after the sun warms up and dries it out, it would be a nice camping option.

Next we drove through the Kaibab Lake Campground, which is also part of the National Forest. The lake is beautiful, and they have a lot of first-come, first-served campsites available, as well as sites that can be reserved. When we pulled up to the information kiosk, we were immediately met by the campground host. In our conversation, he told us that we would have to pay an extra fee for our pickup, since we aren’t towing it. The fee schedule for the campsites state that if you are in a motorhome towing a vehicle, you’re considered one vehicle for fee purposes. However, since we aren’t physically towing the pickup, we don’t get the same treatment.

We’ve run into this same rule before, both in New Mexico and in other campgrounds in Arizona, and in every case, they understood that the motorhome is where we live and it stays put, and the pickup is our daily driving vehicle. We have never been charged for an extra vehicle before. It makes absolutely no sense that a 40′ Class A motorhome towing a Jeep can camp for less than we can in our 24′ Class C, driving our pickup separately.

I called the local Forest Service supervisor’s office to try to get some clarification, and they said they would check into it for us. All they did was call the camp host (who is actually a concessionaire), who told them the same thing they told us. The person at the supervisor’s office agreed with me that it didn’t make sense, but said they didn’t make the rules.

We do get a 50% discount on the camping fees in National Forest campgrounds, but that isn’t the point. We shouldn’t have to pay anything extra for our truck just because we aren’t physically towing it. So, long story longer, we won’t be staying at that particular campground, even though it is beautiful.

After keeping a close eye on the weather forecast, we could see that it was going to be quite warm in Golden Valley, where we had already made reservations at an RV park for Monday through Wednesday (13th-15th). It’s also supposed to start warming up and getting more sunny here where we are, so yesterday we decided to drive up Highway 64 to check out some boondocking possibilities close to the Grand Canyon National Park.

Generally, you can do dispersed camping for free on National Forest land as long as you are at least 1/4 mile off the main road, and you don’t camp in any area that is specifically prohibited by signage. Once we got into the National Forest about 15 miles south of Tusayan, we started driving down the Forest Roads to see what was available. And there are a LOT of beautiful, empty campsites that are currently a little damp, but are fine for camping. They are generally large pull-outs on the side of the gravel road, and they have fire pits already built that indicate the best spots to camp. We were looking for a site that had some vegetation for privacy, but not so much shade that we can’t get plenty of solar power.

Each road we went down was a little different. The first one we explored was the least muddy, and we saw some elk along the way (and we also found a large skeleton of one in one of the campsites we looked at). We found a campsite that was absolutely perfect with a beautiful view of nearby Red Bluff, the only downside being that the cellphone signal was pretty weak.

Not sure if this is a good camp spot or not–looks like this elk wasn’t too lucky.

The second road we drove down was interesting with an old stone and adobe structure at the entrance, but the campsites were more muddy and there were power lines running down the side of the road. We didn’t see anything that really excited us on this road, although it would do in a pinch.

Not sure what this structure was meant for but it has a small room in the base.

The third road had some beautiful sites, but was even muddier still, and there was even some snow still on the ground in the shadier areas. Even so, there were more people already camped in this area, and it will be a great possibility after it warms up and dries out some.

The fourth road we checked was a complete bust. We found a large camping area right inside the entrance, but then we looked over and saw what looked like a dumping area. When we checked it out closer we found that it was a shooting range and the ground was covered in trash and empty shotgun shell casings. People, if you want to go out on public land and shoot your guns, that’s your right, but at least pick up your garbage, you lazy bums!!

Rant over.

After leaving there, we reached Tusayan, the small village at the entrance to the Grand Canyon National Park. We stopped at Starbucks for some coffee and to review what we had found. While there, we checked out the adjoining market to see what our options would be for groceries and supplies while camping in the area (very small selection of produce at high prices). We quickly determined that if we camp there, we’ll need to stock up well ahead of time and be prepared to drive at least 50 miles to Williams or Flagstaff for real grocery shopping.

After we left Starbucks, we checked out a couple more Forest Roads, found some more elk and some more beautiful camping areas. Of course since this was closer to the National Park, there were more people already camped in the area, despite the mud, but we decided that we might move there in a couple of weeks when things are drier.

We were lucky enough to see several elk on our explorations. These were not shy at all.

So after a long afternoon of exploration, we definitely decided that we are NOT moving to Golden Valley, and that we are going boondocking again. We’ll start out at the first campsite that we found on Forest Road 320, and then as things dry out we’ll probably move north, closer to the National Park.

Today (Sunday), we’re getting prepared to leave the amenities of this very nice RV park, and head back to the woods. Andy has already fixed one of our kitchen drawers this morning, as it wasn’t latching properly and we didn’t want it to fly open while we’re driving. After lunch we’re going to drive to Flagstaff to hit up Walmart for groceries and supplies for about the next 10 days. Tomorrow morning we’ll enjoy one last shower with unlimited hot water before we hit the road to go north.

We’ve definitely enjoyed our stay here, and certainly recommend this park to anyone who is traveling through the Williams area. But it will be nice to have some privacy and open space around us again for a change. And of course, we plan to visit the Grand Canyon at least once while we’re in this area. With Andy’s senior pass, we get free entrance to the park, so we’ll probably go more than once.

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

Safe travels!

Forest Boondocking, Moving to Williams, Watching the Weather

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

Arriving at our campsite on a rainy day

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

Pumphouse Wash is a beautiful stream flowing through Kaibab limestone cliffs

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

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

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

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

Iconic view of Sedona from the airport overlook

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

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

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

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

Handy Andy doing some rig maintenance while the sun shines

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

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

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

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

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

Awesome shower facilities at Grand Canyon Railroad RV Park

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

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

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

Beer-battered cod and fries at Grand Canyon Brewery

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

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

Andy and Elvis in the Twisters 50’s Diner

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

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

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

Safe travels!

Monthly Full-time RV Living Expense Report – April 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are our expenses for April:

Camping fees + Electricity

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

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

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

Eight month average: $179

Our little solar farm at our campsite in Hilltop Campground

DUMPING FEEs

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

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

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

Eight month average: $30

Fuel for the RV

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

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

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

Eight month average: $155

Fuel for the Truck

February: $113 (49 gal, 17.6 MPG)

March: $92 (36 gal, 18.9 MPG)

April: $130 (45 gal, 18.2 MPG)

Eight month average: $155

Sunset at our camp on Bloody Basin Road

PROPANE

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

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

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

Eight month average: $36

groceries

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

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

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

Eight month average: $508

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

dining out

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

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

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

Eight month average: $217

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

household / furnishings

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

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

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

The new mattress in place. Fits perfectly!

Eight month average: $154

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

petcare

February: $7 – Kitties are doing very well!

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

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

Eight month average: $67

These numbers include cat food, litter, treats and the occasional toy for our two kitties, Maggie and Molly. Will also include vet visits when needed.

verizon cellphone / internet

February: $276

March: $276

April: $276

Eight month average: $267

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

mail forwarding

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

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

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

Eight month average: $18

Laundry

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

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

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

Eight month average: $20

attractions / entertainment

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

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

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

Eight month average: $85

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

Antique store and saloon in Crown King

memberships

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

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

April: $0

Eight month average: $36

Equipment for RV

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

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

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

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

RV Maintenance & REpairs

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

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

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

Eight month average: $96

The generator gets an oil and air filter change

truck maintenance & repairs

February: $0

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

April: $0

Eight month average: $10

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

Vehicle insurance

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

VEhicle License and registration

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

Summary

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

February Total: $1,904

March Total: $2,257

April Total: $2,495

Eight month average: $2,518

It obviously makes a huge difference whether we’re moving around a lot or staying in one location for an extended length of time. In December we drove more, continued putting together our solar system, and had some additional maintenance items to attend to, so our expenses were higher than we would have liked, even with the free boondocking. In January,  February and early March, we had much better months in terms of our pocketbooks while eating well, entertaining ourselves, staying warm and dry and enjoying the beautiful surroundings and interesting culture along the southern border. In mid-March we started moving again, changing locations about every two weeks, so the fuel costs go up.

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

Enjoying the view just outside Crown King, AZ

We’ll continue to closely monitor our expenses and will report them here on a monthly basis. So if you’re interested, be sure to subscribe to this blog so you get all our updates. You can also find us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads to stay up with us between blog posts.

Mattress Upgrade, Campground Evacuation Due to Wildfire

Well, our first five days in the Prescott National Forest at the Hilltop Campground have certainly been busy and eventful. After boondocking in the desert for so long with no close neighbors, it’s been a bit of an adjustment getting used to the sounds of people shouting at each other, dogs barking and generators running. But the setting is so pretty, it makes it worthwhile to put up with some minor annoyances. (Yeah, we’re just old and cranky!)

Our little solar farm at our campsite in Hilltop Campground

We arrived here on Monday, and on Tuesday it rained most of the afternoon and evening. I took a short hike on Wednesday morning, but otherwise we didn’t do much. I was just starting to come down with my usual springtime Arizona crud (sore throat and sinus drainage), so I haven’t felt all that great all week. About all I want to do in the afternoons right now is nap.

We met the campground mascot, a ginger tabby that we have named Rusty. He just showed up at our screen door on Wednesday morning, and then decided to climb all over our rig–trying to impress Maggie and Molly, I guess, but they weren’t having anything to do with him. The camp host, Warren, told me that the kitty wandered up to their camp out of the woods about four years ago, and they adopted each other. Rusty is allowed to roam free, so he visits all the campsites and is very friendly. However, I did chase him away one afternoon when he started stalking a baby rabbit in the brush next to our campsite. The poor little rabbit would run from bush to bush with Rusty hot on its heels. I was afraid I would be psychologically scarred for life if I witnessed Rusty catching that bunny rabbit, so I chased him off. Hopefully the little rabbit found its way home.

Rusty trying to convice Maggie to come out and play. She just hissed at him.

On Thursday morning, we received a call letting us know our new custom mattress had arrived at the Fedex facility in Prescott and was ready for pickup. Our first challenge was finding the facility. There is a lot of new construction going on in Prescott and the streets have been added to Google Maps, but many of them are closed to traffic as they really don’t go anywhere right now. But we finally managed to find the facility and load up our new mattress, which was compressed into a tight jellyroll and packed in a cardboard box.

Our new mattress in the cardboard box, sitting on the old mattress.

When we got back to the rig, we first had to get the old mattress outside where we laid it on the picnic table (so glad the weather was nice that day!). The next step was to unpack the new mattress and let it expand. We were told to unpack it directly onto the bed platform, but the space was too tight to maneuver that big jellyroll, so we took it back outside and unpacked it on top of the old mattress. It quickly expanded, and then we wrestled it back into the RV and got it squeezed between the walls and onto the platform.

The new mattress in place. Fits perfectly!

Our old mattress was about 5″ high at its highest point, which was around the edges. The middle of the old mattress had compressed to where it was maybe 3″ thick at most. The new mattress is 8″ thick and is SO comfortable. Since it’s only a full size instead of a queen, we need every inch of real estate available for Andy and myself and two cats. It’s nice to finally be able to sleep closer to the edge of the mattress without rolling back into a “bowl” in the middle.

After getting the new mattress set up, we loaded the old one into the back of the truck and hauled it over to the Prescott waste transfer station, where we paid $11 to dispose of it. I suppose we could have just thrown it into the dumpster here in the campground, but we didn’t want to be THAT kind of camper or RVer.

Saying goodbye to the old mattress at the city dump.

Afterwards, we drove into historic downtown Prescott and had lunch at a Thai restaurant, followed by some ice cream at Frannie’s. We figured out that it’s been over eight years since we’ve been to downtown Prescott–a lot has changed, but it still has a familiar vibe.

So yesterday (Friday), the campground had filled up completely with campers looking forward to a long holiday weekend. There was a large group that took at least three spaces across from us.  They had lots of kids and lots of dogs, including four beagles. It wasn’t exactly peaceful and quiet, but it was okay and everyone seemed to be having a good time and behaving themselves.

I still wasn’t feeling great, so I was taking an afternoon nap when Andy woke me up a little after 4:00 to let me know that the campground was being evacuated. A sheriff’s deputy had stopped by to let us know that there was a wildfire a few miles away at Lynx Lake, so they were evacuating all the campgrounds in the area as a precaution.

Andy packing up the outdoor gear for evacuation.

Fortunately, it doesn’t take us long to get things stowed away for moving. Within a half hour we were packed up and ready to go, and that wasn’t even rushing it. We decided to go to Walmart and stay overnight in their parking lot until things got sorted out and we could decide what to do next.

We found a level spot at Walmart among all the other RVs and campervans that were already parked there. I had posted the news to our Instagram and Facebook accounts, and we had received a kind offer of a place to stay from our friends John and Helen in Yarnell. But around 6:00, just as we were cooking dinner, a fellow RV evacuee stopped by our door to let us know that they were letting people back into the campgrounds.

Our temporary boondocking spot in the Walmart parking lot

We finished dinner, and then I drove the pickup back up to the campground (just over four miles away) to check out the situation. The route up to the campground, Walker Road, had been reopened, but I noticed that they still had a few of the entrances to the Lynx Lake campgrounds blocked off. There was quite a bit of smoke hanging in the air in the valleys along the way. When I reached the entrance to Hilltop Campground where we were staying, the entrance was open.

I drove back to our loop and found it almost totally abandoned. The camp host was still there, and I verified with him that it was all right to return. I called Andy and told him to bring the rig back to the campground. After I spoke to Andy, I met Lloyd who is a traveler from Florida who is camping out here without a tent or a vehicle. (From what we’re told, he flies into Phoenix every summer, takes the shuttle to Prescott and then just camps out in the mountains for the summer.) Nice guy, just a little eccentric I guess. Anyway, he didn’t evacuate, and we had a nice conversation while I waited for Andy to get back to camp.

Almost dark, returning to a nearly-empty campground

By the time he arrived, it was almost dark, so we did a minimal setup, not bothering with the solar panels. Our next door neighbors, Tom and Judy, showed up just after we got things set up. They had driven down to Phoenix for the day to pick up their grandkids for the weekend, so their camper and all their gear was still sitting right where they had left it. They weren’t aware of the evacuation, so they were quite surprised when they came driving back into an almost-empty campground after dark.

So last night it was just us, Tom and Judy, Lloyd, and the camp host/hostess here in the campground. It was so quiet!! But this morning it has been quite busy. Technically, the campground is “full” as all of the spaces have been paid for for the entire weekend. But people come driving through and see the empty spaces and think the space is available. A few more of the evacuees have returned this morning, but most have not. I’m not sure how long the camp host will hold these empty spaces before he starts letting new campers use them.

We had paid for five nights in our spot, which meant that our time was up this morning. But we decided we like it here enough to stay longer, so we went ahead and paid through the 29th (14 days total which is the limit). We are enjoying being camped so close to Prescott with all the shopping available–Costco, Trader Joe’s, Sprouts, just to name a few–as well as all the sightseeing, geocaching and hiking opportunities. Now if I can just shake this crud and get to feeling like doing some of those things!

This morning we went to the local farmers’ market, looking for some local honey. I’ve found that it helps my allergies if I can take a spoonful each day, but it has to be local to the area. Surprisingly, we didn’t find any at the farmers’ market, but wound up getting some at Sprouts instead.

The latest update on the fire is that it is 80% contained. Hopefully the wind doesn’t pick up and drive it this way–we really don’t want to have to evacuate again.

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!

 

Fun in the Desert, Agua Fria National Monument, Back to the Forest

Wow, didn’t realize it had been ten days since my last post! Time to catch up!

Yesterday was moving day, and we’re in a new location now, but first I’ll share some of what we’ve been up to for the past ten days at our camp on Bloody Basin Road BLM land near Mayer, Arizona.

First of all, we got some maintenance items taken care of. As I mentioned in an earlier post, we almost lost our sewer hose (a.k.a. the “stinky slinky”) when the homemade storage pipe came loose from the underside of the rig while at the dump station. Andy decided to replace the old one with some PVC pipe which should hold up better to the rigors of travel. It took a little ingenuity, but he got it done (as he always does).

Handy Andy installs PVC pipe to hold our stinky slinky under the RV.

I did quite a bit of geocaching while we were at the Bloody Basin camp. There is a person or persons who go by the handle Cactusart Kids who have placed hundreds of caches in the area. The ones I found were all in tins of different shapes and sizes, most had swag for trading, a few were pretty rusty, but in every case it was a fun hunt and not too hard to locate. I’m still pretty new to geocaching, so I appreciate the ones that don’t totally stump me. I did have to be extremely cautious, though, as it’s rattlesnake season, and digging around in the rocks can be a little iffy. I saw one live rattler in the middle of the road as I was walking back from a hunt, and another rattler was run over by a vehicle at the entrance to our campsite. Just a little something to add a “thrill” to the hunt (sorry, Mom!!).

My very first time to see a rattler in the wild, and fortunately it was in the middle of the road.

On Saturday, we drove through a good portion of the Agua Fria National Monument, which is just across the interstate from where we were camped. The Monument is comprised of 70,900 acres, including the 55,200-acre “Perry Mesa Archaeological District”, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It takes its name from the Agua Fria River which flows through the Monument, and features one of the most significant systems of prehistoric sites in the American Southwest.

Agua Fria river flowing by Horseshoe Ranch in Agua Fria National Monument

Our goal was to reach the Pueblo la Plata archaeological site, located about eight miles from the entrance to the Monument. That was probably the roughest eight miles that our little Tacoma pickup truck has ever traveled. Not only did we have to go up and down steep inclines, but the road got progressively more “primitive” the further we drove.

Epic view on Road 9269 in the Agua Fria National Monument.

When we finally reached the turn-off to the pueblo site, we decided to just park the truck and hike in. It was about a mile-and-a-half to the archaeological site across the top of a mesa, so it was a fairly flat hike. The pueblo site itself was less impressive than I had hoped, as it’s pretty much just piles of rocks that at one time made up the walls of the homes and other structures where people lived. Over time, the dirt and clay “mortar” has washed away, and now there’s a lot of vegetation growing around the stones, so it’s a little harder to see the outline of the structure. But it’s there, you just have to use your imagination a little bit.

Remains of Pueblo la Plata. They had a beautiful view!

And about 20 yards away is the rim of the canyon where Silver Creek flows by, which was their major source of water at the time. The view from the top of the canyon was really stunning, and worth the hike.

Andy on the edge of Silver Creek Canyon near the Pueblo la Plata

We made several trips to civilization while we were camped at Bloody Basin. I drove to Mayer one day to pick up our mail, which contained some unexpected good news–the dentist office in Yuma that we visited is refunding almost half of what we paid them for Andy’s crown and my filling. Our dental insurance paid more than they expected, so we got a nice chunk of change back. Hooray!! We also had a laundry and grocery shopping day in Prescott Valley, so we took advantage of the trip to have lunch at Chipotle. And on Sunday, we drove south to Anthem to pick up a package from Amazon at the Amazon locker in the Chase bank lobby (we love Amazon lockers!!), and stopped by Starbucks for some free wi-fi and a treat.

So, yesterday (Monday), we hit the fourteen day limit at that particular BLM campsite. As you might remember from our previous post, we have ordered a new mattress (HALLELUJAH!!) for the RV, and it’s scheduled for delivery to the Prescott Valley Fedex facility this Thursday, so we need to stay in the area. We were considering just staying put for a few more days as the BLM doesn’t actively track how long you stay in most of these boondocking spots. After we had breakfast, we got on the computer and started looking at spots where we might want to move to later in the week, all around the Prescott Valley area. Since we also needed to dump the tanks yesterday, we finally decided that since we had to move the RV to go to the dump, we might as well just relocate at the same time.

So we picked out a US Forest Service campground located between Prescott and Prescott Valley where they have eleven campsites that are first-come, first-serve. We decided to take a chance on there being a spot available at the Hilltop Campground, and if not, we would just cross that bridge later. All the reservation sites were gone, as we expected.

So we packed everything up and pulled out of camp around 11:00 AM yesterday. We stopped in Cordes Junction to dump the tanks and fill up on propane, gas, and fresh water, and then made the short 35-mile drive to our new campground. And sure enough, there was one campsite available that we were JUST able to squeeze our rig onto–and this is just another example of why we decided to keep the small RV for now instead of trading up to a larger one.

Our newest home in Hilltop Campground (USFS) near Prescott AZ

The campground does not provide hookups, but they do have vault toilets as well as drinking water available. Each site has a picnic table and a fire-ring, and the sites are asphalt pads. There’s a camp host on duty to keep things clean and orderly. The sites are $18/night, but with Andy’s America the Beautiful lifetime senior pass, which cost us $10, we get half off the camping fee, so we’re paying $9/night.

The elevation here is 5,682′, about 2,000 feet higher than where we were, so the vegetation and climate are very different. We’re surrounded by Ponderosa pine and hardwood trees, and the temperatures are about ten degrees cooler. The humidity is still low, and the trees offer protection from the wind, making it very pleasant to be outside. The one downside to the trees is that it makes it harder for our solar panels to charge the batteries. We may wind up depending more upon the generator for a few days. We’re supposed to get a little rain today, but otherwise the weather looks to be beautiful while we’re here.

So our plans for the rest of the week include picking up our new mattress, finding a place to dispose of the old one, doing some hiking and geocaching, visiting downtown Prescott again, and generally enjoying this beautiful location. We have always loved the Prescott area–in fact, when we were living in Glendale we were considering buying property in Prescott or Prescott Valley, but wound up moving to Tupelo, Mississippi instead to be near family for awhile. We are still seriously considering making this area our final retirement destination once we get off the road, whenever that may be.

Sunset at our camp on Bloody Basin Road

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

Safe travels!