Archives for category: RV Life

The Lees and the Carlsens at Yellowstone’s Grant Campground

Our son, Nicholas, suggested we rendezvous at Yellowstone National Park.  He, his wife and children, and his in-laws, the Lees, flew from Virginia to Salt Lake City, rented a motorhome and drove to the park.  We drove our new Thor Synergy motorhome from Chelan to Yellowstone.  It would be a much-needed shakedown cruise for our new acquisition.

The weather in Virginia had been stifling so Yellowstone’s cool weather was a welcome relief for them.  Morning temperatures were in the thirties.  The first night, Friday, it rained but turned sunny thereafter – quite pleasant.

We rendezvoued at Old Faithful where the parking lot is big enough to handle a Seahawk’s football crowd and it was full.  Old Faithful dutifully spurted right on time so no surprises there.  Nick brought a nifty little camping saw that enabled us to collect a full measure of firewood just to the side of the parking lot (saved $8.00!)

We couldn’t get our RV’s furnace to work so our morning coffee was the only thing to warm us on Saturday morning.  Everything in the Synergy is computer controlled which takes some getting used to.  We later figured out what we were doing wrong.

Yellowstone is crowded this time of year so we had reservations for our first two nights at Grant Campground.  In order to get an unreserved site at another campground we were on the road by 6AM and then stood in line for an hour at Norris Campground.  All eight of us then piled into Nick’s rented RV and drove around the northern reaches of the park.  We saw a modest assortment of wildlife (a few black bears, elk, and bison).

A brown Black Bear stops traffic

Near Mammoth Hot Springs Nick stuck his hand in this clear mountain stream and discovered it to be as warm as bathtub water!  Red-hot magma is never far beneath your feet in Yellowstone.

Warm Mountain Stream

Sunday we visited the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.  Awesome waterfalls but the engineer in me could only imagine all the hydroelectric power going to waste:

Mary at the lower waterfall

We also visited the bubbling mud pools (or whatever they’re called).  Several bison were grazing within arm’s reach.  One of them had shed a patch of wool just out of reach.  When I spied a “grabber” at the next pool (used to retrieve wind-tossed hats from the pool) I raced back and plucked the patch of wool from the other side of the barrier.  “What a great souveneir of Yellowstone!”  I thought.  Mary could only recoil in horror when I suggested she feel how soft the wool is.  

“That thing probably has ticks and fleas in it” she shrieked.  She isolated it from more civilized surroundings once we returned to the RV by sealing it in a Zip-Loc bag.

Tuesday morning we moved to adjacent Grand Teton Park.  Nick and I hiked up into the Tetons until snow blocked the trail while the others strolled up to Jenny Lake:

Nick just below the snow in the Tetons

We drove into the town of Jackson that afternoon for a sub-par Mexican meal at the Merry Piglet restaurant.  On the way back to the campground at Colter Bay we were treated to a spectacular stampede of a bison herd.  About sixty of those thundering beasts were spooked by something and started running.  When a fenceline appeared to block their path they simply jumped over the fence!  I never would have guessed that animals weighing over 1000 lbs could jump a fence.  Nick captured the stampede on his video camera:  

As a shakedown cruise our trip disclosed several problems with our new RV so in that sense it was a spectacular success.   The RV’s door was hard to open and impossible to lock.  It actually came open twice as we were driving.  Our solution was to bungee it closed.  Ironically, the door works perfectly today, now that we are home.  Despite the  bugs, which we expect to work out soon, we really like the Synergy’s layout.  It drives like a sedan and gets spectacular fuel MPG for a motorhome (16-17 MPG for the entire trip.)

I’m guessing Mary’s favorite part of the trip was the chance to grandmother Anna (6) and Leif (4).  We don’t get to see them often being separated by an entire continent.  She was a big hit with them judging by their insistence on holding her hand everywhere we went..


Geographers and geologists call Nevada’s alternating mountain range and valley topography “basin and range.”  It’s quite striking really.  To see a 3-D layout of the state, which I did at a vistor center, it looks like the welted back of a British sailor who has received forty lashes and has the scar tissue to prove it.  Scores of north-south running mountain ranges divided by nearly flat basins ten to twenty miles wide comprise nearly all of Nevada.

From the ground, along US 93, which runs roughly from Las Vegas in the south to the Idaho border, the flat basins form an ideal route the length of the state allowing 93 to weave its way northward with few serious inclines.  The highway is well maintained and, especially on the southern half, nearly devoid of vehicles.  We often found ourselves with a clear view both forward and aft to the distant horizons with no cars or trucks in sight.  There are NO towns on the 116-mile stretch between Pioche and Ely.  Cross-state US 50 calls itself the “Loneliest Road” but US 93 is that title’s rightful claimant.  North of Ely snow-clad mountain ranges sparkled today against a blazingly blue desert sky.

We’ve driven this route home to Chelan from Arizona before after wintering in our RV.  It’s much shorter than I-15 through Utah and it has no traffic jams – hell, it has no traffic whatsover.  I-15 near Salt Lake City, by contrast, seems always to be a 50-mile long traffic jam.  

This year we purposefully stopped early in the day at the Pahranagat National Wildlife Reguge which is about 100 miles north of Las Vegas.  One reason was a ferocious headwind that I feared would wreak havoc with our fuel consumption (which turned out not to be the case: 8.7 MPG vs. 10.5 MPG in still air).  The refuge’s lake is a pleasant (and free) campground (see photo above).

I love that photo!  I think it perfectly catches the best thing about RVs – how you can stop any old place and have all the comforts of home at your disposal.  

As for wildlife, I can’t say we saw an abundance.  We took a 3-mile hike around the lake but saw only a few hawks, a swan, and a muskrat hole in the moist bank of the lakeshore.


Rudy started barking in the night a few days back so I got up and looked around outside.  I didn’t notice anything amiss so I assumed one of the plentiful feral cats in the neighborhood had aroused him.  I went back to bed. Some time later he started barking again so Mary looked around.  She didn’t see anything.

In the morning she looked out the window and said “Lief, your bike is gone!”  Sure enough, all that was left of my $1500 Specialized mountain bike was a piece of the cable lock with which I had secured it to the trailer.  This was a cable about the diameter of my little finger and it was sliced off as clean as a butcher cuts sausage.  Mary’s bike was untouched.  I guess Rudy’s barking scared the thief off.  Know what? – from now on Rudy gets our full attention  when he barks in the night.

The very next day I went to REI and bought a new bike, racks, cargo bag, and Kryptonite locks of hardened 3/4″ steel that no bolt cutters can breach.  (As every boy who read Superman comics knows, even Superman cannot overpower Kryptonite.)  They’ll have to bring a cutting torch or grinder – which we would certainly hear so I’m confident the bikes are now safe.  What scumbags!  Taking my dear bicycle on which I rode the Great Divide.  

I’ve been watching the bicycle listings on Craigslist, hoping to see my biycle for sale.  Thoughts of employing the thief’s own bolt cutters on various parts of his anatomy have been crossing my mind in the unlikely event I see my bike advertised.

Safely locked to the trailer frame with Kryptonite locks we feel our bikes are now safe but this morning Mary noticed that either a very big dog or a human had pissed high up on the tarp she covered her bike with.  Could it be that the thief returned and, angered by his inability to steal the bikes, pissed on them?


I rode The Loop trail around the city of Tucson yesterday to try out my new bike.  That was about 60 miles.  This new seat isn’t nearly as kind to my butt as the one that was stolen so there was no more riding today.  To give my bruised hiney a rest, Mary, Rudy, and I took a little hike up Sentinel Peak which provided a great view of the city:


Yes, the heat here is dry and dry heat isn’t as oppressive as humid heat but after spending an afternoon walking through the desert when the temperature was in the low eighties, I can tell you that dry heat isn’t exactly benign.  One thing to consider other than humidity is the intensity of sunlight.  When the sky is clear blue sunlight can give you the feeling you’re in a solar oven.  

I hiked up to a place called Seven Falls today with my aluminized parasol to see if the sun would be less oppressive than it was the other day when I wore a sun hat.  The “sunbrella” has several advantages over a mere hat: It shades one’s entire upper body – not just the head.  It also allows free air circulation which eliminates the “sweaty head” problem from which I suffer.  And, should the weather turn rainy, it can deflect raindrops.


The sunbrella definitely helps but reflected light off the sand still managed to give my legs a heat rash.  I used this sunbrella on the PCT but never saw another hiker with one.  On today’s hike I saw quite a few hikers who, judging by their  flushed faces and sweaty brows, were feeling the heat but no one else sported a sunbrella.  Go figure??

Seven Falls is an 8-mile hike popular with University of Arizona students according to my hiking guide.  Because of the current drought, the falls were dry today but when the water is flowing and the pools at the falls’ bases are full of clear water I can understand the attraction.  The stream bed in many places is long expanses of water-smoothed bedrock that is dotted with shallow pools that are warmed by that intense Arizona sun.  



Here we are early this morning in Quartzsite, Arizona, ready to move on after two weeks of BLM camping.  What do the old sailors say? – “Red sun at morning, sailors take warning”?  Other than the fact it was a record-setting 82 degrees in Tucson today (which wasn’t half bad) I’d have to disagree with the sailors.  It’s been a nice day.

The plan was to sniff around Phoenix today and maybe spend some time there but when we drove in a brown fog of air pollution obscured the city and the traffic was unnerving and we couldn’t find a place to park and so we just drove on down to Tucson in disgust.  We’re holed up in Catalina State Park north of Tucson for the night.  There is a mighty fine view of the Catalina Mountains from our dining “room”table:

I’m going to ride my bicycle into Tucson tomorrow to try to find the nice secretary at the University of Arizona who last year was so helpful in hitching me up with a German tutor.  If that works out, we will probably do a repeat of last winter when we stayed in a trailer park within the city limits.  If not……….?  We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

We’re enjoying the warmth.  And should we ever start taking this weather for granted we just need to look at this photo that was taken a few days before we left Union Valley:

Mary is lobbying for new tires for the trailer and if we needed encouragement to spend the cash for the tires, boy did we get it today.  We were being swept along the Phoenix freeway today by the inexorable flow of traffic like a pair of drowning swimmers in a raging river when we heard a loud “bang!”  I thought some debris had hit our truck but then we saw a black cloud slightly ahead of us, one lane over, swirling up from under a concrete truck.  Shards of rubber up to several feet long were spiraling through the air.  One of his tires had blown.  Lucky for him, his truck had about thirteen other tires to take up the slack so he managed to make it to the next off-ramp without losing control.  Not so, another truck we had passed a few miles earlier; this big rig was upside down facing the on-coming traffic.  Rolling over I can understand but how he wound up facing backwards I find beyond comprehension.


Just about anywhere you camp in the desert you can hear the coyotes at night.  Their yip, yip, yipping, sometimes far away, sometimes just outside the RV door, is as much a part of the desert night as the starry sky and saguaros in the moonlight.  Naive little Rudy thinks they are calling to him “Come out and play with us.  We’re your friends……arooooh!”  Rudy doesn’t speak coyote, you see.  He only speaks dog and he thinks all dogs want to play with him.  He’s still a puppy and he wants to play with any and every dog so he doesn’t know any better.  He hasn’t yet learned that it is a cold, cruel world out there.  He doesn’t know that the coyotes would tear him into pieces.

What the coyotes really mean behind their siren song is “Give us the little black dog and we’ll leave you alone.”  The coyotes are trying to strike a bargain but I’m not buying.  They don’t intimidate me.  A man with a stout club is more than a match for a pack of coyotes.  I might even use the jaw bone of an ass, Samson style, to subdue them.  I say “Bring it on, coyotes!”

Speaking of Samson, I wonder what would have become of him if he had lived into old age.  They say his strength lay in his long hair.  Well what if Samson had lived to be 67 like me and gone bald (like me)?  Would his strength have decreased as each hair follicle shrivelled up and blew away?  Would he have become weaker and weaker until he was just a feeble old man (unlike me)?  Would some Phillistine punk have jumped him in an alley and kicked the _ _ _ _ out of him?  Would the lead story in the Jericho Times the next day have been “SAMSON ROLLED IN ALLEY BEHIND AARON’S BAR”?  Alas, we’ll never know since that Delilah bitch sold him down the river.  Poor Samson.


We arrived at Lake Mead (near Las Vegas) this morning after leaving Tucson yesterday.  Several events to report:

 Just outside of Wikieup along Highway 93 our windshield was pelted by a sudden downpour (or so we thought).  Strangely, the sky was cloudless.  Even stranger, this downpour only lasted a mere second although it left our windshield covered with residue.  Mary and I traded looks of bewilderment.  On closer inspection, I noticed that the “raindrop” residue had a distinct yellowish cast.  “Bug guts!” I declared in triumph.  Further inspection when we stopped for gas showed the bug remnants to contain bits and pieces of bees.  We had hit a swarm of bees at 60 MPH and the bees, predictably, had not fared  well.  Lucky for us, we had a windshield in front of us.  A band of motorcyclists that had just passed were not so lucky.  We passed them a few miles down the road, pulled off to the side, removing their clothing and picking bees out of the folds.

At the aforementioned gas station, we pulled in behind a car to be next in line to use the only accessible diesel pump (which was the next one in front of the car).  Before that car moved, a motorcycle drove up to the pump we wanted to use and started pumping gas.  Meanwhile, the car leaves and I’m all set to pull forward as soon as the motorcylce leaves.  About this time, Mary decides to wash the bug guts off the windshield and she’s hanging on to the cab with the door open (because the truck windshield is too high for her to reach from the ground.  The motorcycle leaves but I can’t pull forward because our open door would have hit another motorcycle or squeezed closed on Mary.  Before I can notify Mary to get down, a car full of women pulls up to “our” pump.  The driver gets out, but instead of pumping gas, she heads into the MiniMart, to pee (or worse).  Five minutes go by; ten minutes.  About this time I’m thinking about barging into the Ladies Room and pulling this lady out by the shirt collar with her pants around her ankles but she saves me the trouble when she finally emerges.  She leisurely pumps some gas.  But now the gas station attendant has decided to clean the garbage cans and has pulled one out to block the way.  I don’t even have to tell Mary what to do.  She runs up to our pumps and begins to stand guard.  Woe be to anyone who had dared drive up to our pump!

We finally get our diesel, drive away and a mile down the road we see a large yellow sign next to a palm tree with thick black letters that reads “INDIAN JEW”. “Indian Jew?” I wonder.  “That’s a first”.  But as we drive past, I see that the palm tree has obscured the rest of the sign.  No, we have not come across a unique cultural hybrid.  The little adobe building next to the sign is actually selling INDIAN JEWELRY!

Another fifty miles past Wikieup, we stopped in Kingman and had a nice chat with my nephew Ranier and his mother Mavis.  Kingman is the spittin’ image of Victorville, CA forty years ago.  Same Joshua Trees, same elevation, same jackrabbits.  All in all, a nice little town.

The last time I remember going through Kingman was 1960.  That was before Interstate 40.  Route 66 went through downtown then.  I was ten years old.  I must not have been paying attention as we came into town because as we drove along the main street I noticed Kingman Grocery, Kingman Hardware, Kingman Pharmacy, etc.  I said something like “Boy, those Kingmans sure own a lot of this town.”  Older brother Lars set me straight:  “Kingman is the name of the town, Idiot!” 


When looking for a project this winter, we considered prospecting for gold, volunteering to labor on the Pacific Crest Trail, and rehabilitating a house in Ajo, Arizona.  After due consideration, none of those projects was panning out so I investigated Plan D – studying German in preparation for our bicycle trip in Europe this summer.  Plan D was looking like another dead end when I chanced upon a University of Arizona website that listed something about language tutoring.  I was rather discouraged at that point but on the off chance that something might come of it, I inquired about a possible German tutor.  I was immediately put in touch with a student named Christina whom I then contacted and it has worked out very well indeed.

The arrangement between tutor and tutee is whatever the two agree to.  In our case, it is $20/hour.  For that, I received the undivided attention of Christina  with no unwanted emphasis on grammer or other linguistic trivia that is of no interest to me.  No waiting while each classmate in-turn regurgitates the same answer to the same question.  Pure conversation is what I got; lots of practice deciphering everyday speech and cobbling together phrases determined by the situation.  After six weeks of conversation, I am convinced that an hour of conversation is worth a week of classroom instruction.  Christina is a German exchange student at UofA studying architecture so I got the real deal, not Americanized German. (It didn’t hurt that she is a beautiful young woman either).

Winter is over so we’re pulling up stakes and heading home.  After six weeks of conversation practice my German is much improved.  Now, if only I can find a German tutor near Chelan to keep up my progress.


We have taken full advantage of the record warm spell in Tucson.  Every day for the last two weeks we have swum laps at the trailer park pool.  We’re up to fifty!  We have definitely improved.  I’m getting so fast that Mary is complaining about the wave I leave in my wake.  She says it “swamps” her when she’s backstroking, which I find hard to believe because she has a mean backstroke.

Tomorrow it is forecasted to be down in the low 70s which is too cool for these fair-weather swimmers.  We have had the pool to ourselves as this is a senior citizen trailer park and most of the residents, for various reasons, don’t feel up to swimming.  We would probably resent it if anyone were to use “our” pool at this point.

They say the snow is melting back in North Central Washington so we will be pulling up stakes by the end of the week and heading for home.  We’ll probably stop off at Lake Mead for up to a week and then make our usual mad dash for home.


The name of that new guy who won all the swimming gold at the Rio Olympics eludes me at the moment so I’ll compare myself to the great Mark Spitz of Munich fame.  Let’s just say I’ve got a way to go.   There is a decent sized swimming pool at the Crossroads RV Park in Tucson where we’re staying and with the 90-degree weather Mary and I have been swimming every day for a week.  We’re up to 40 laps now but I’m spaghetti-armed for the last few laps.  The weather is forecasted to stay hot for a few more days before it cools down.  We may make it to 50 laps before it all ends.

Even with the warm weather, the water takes some getting used to.  It generally takes us five minutes to slowly and painfully adjust to the cold water.  I know it’s better to just jump in and get it all over with but I somehow just can’t.

Keen student of human behavior that I am, I have become aware of a primitive instinct erupting to the surface of my psyche of late.  The annual NCAA basketball tournament, the so-called March Madness, is underway as I write.  I generally pay about as much attention to basketball as I do to the latest trends in wedding gowns (none), but the University of Arizona is in the competition this year and I find myself giving a damn about their prospects.  Why?  Good question.  My affiliation with UofA amounts to no more than that I meet with my German tutors on the campus several times a week.  But sitting as we do at an outdoor table in the shadow of the enormous Wildcat football stadium, I have absorbed a modicum of school spirit.  Such a strange thing allegiance is.  After all, if the Wildcats do well, it is no reflection on me.  I have contributed nothing to their success or failure.  And yet, how easily we humans attach ourselves to groups, teams, nations of all kinds.  Even a rationalist like myself is susceptible.  Instincts – don’t understimate them.