Archives for category: RV Life


It’s not exactly scenic but it suits our purposes.  We have taken up residence in a traditional trailer park in Tucson for the next month.  Gone are the natural vistas of the national parks and the wailing of coyotes in the desert wash.  We have traded them for the sewer connection and the electrical grid connection of the Crossroads RV Park.  Our primary motivation for this conventional setting is the availability of the nearby University of Arizona.  With so much time on my hands I have once again taken up my German studies.  

In my never ending, penny-pinching quest for the best deal, I stumbled upon several foreign exchange students at the university who will willingly tutor me in German conversational skills.  The alternative was to employ the Berlitz school in Phoenix but that worked out to $80/hr which seemed a bit much.  In a classic “cut out the middle man” strategy I get the real thing for a small fraction of that – $20/hr.

Mary is pleased with our present circumstances because it provides her with unlimited nearby shopping opportunities.  Should she wish to exercise, there is a fitness facility on the corner.  Two miles away is the connection to the bicycle path that encircles the city.  If anyone is suffering here it would be Rudy.  He has to be walked on a short leash lest we incur the wrath of homeowners who don’t appreciate dog turds in their front yards.  (Mary has adopted the new-fangled practice of “bagging” dog turds but I prefer the traditional natural approach of natural decomposition.)

Tucson is a very bicycle-friendly city.  While the university campus is a full four miles from our trailer park, there is a nearly traffic-less bicycle route the whole way.

I was pleased to discover that Tucson is populated by numerous orange trees, the fruit of which no one seems interested in harvesting.  They let the oranges fall to the ground.  “Fresh fruit going to waste!” I thought.  Not wanting the fruit to go to waste, I “havested” a few oranges.  Now I know why no one else does.  These things are more appropriately called “orange lemons!”  Tart!  Sour!  And don’t tell me they’re not ripe.  They’re bright orange and falling to the ground.


Wish me well in my German studies.  Hoffentlich, ich werde mein nachste Post auf Deutsch schreiben!

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Nine months of the year Quartzsite is little more than a collection of filling stations along Interstate 10 near the California-Arizona border.  But each winter its population swells from several hundred to many thousands as RVers from all over the US and Canada stream south to enjoy the bountiful sunshine and cheap living it offers.  

Blessed with flat terrain and a gravelly surface that holds down dust when the wind blows and doesn’t turn muddy after the occasional rain, it is the perfect landscape for vehicles of all shapes and sizes.  Some genius at the Bureau of Land Management has put together an amazingly simple program (Long-Term Visitor Area (LTVA)) that seems to work to everyone’s benefit.  For the modest fee of a few dollars per day RVers get uncrowded parking, fresh water, and sewage and trash service.  The BLM pockets a tidy profit of several million dollars per year (a government program that makes money!)

LTVAs, incidentally, offer the curious a sort of sociological experiment.  What kind of community do you get when you pluck several thousand middle-class, over-fifty couples together in the middle of nowhere?  No crime for one thing.  No trash for another.  Not a great deal of socialization either.  People here are friendly enough if you approach them but few people seem to go out of their way to congregate or exchange more than a few friendly words.  Past a certain age, the company of strangers holds limited appeal.

Territoriality also seems to crop up with surprising regularity.  Everywhere you look, former and present RVers have gratuitously gathered rocks and outlined “their” space on the desert floor.

Quartzsite has its own radio station.  Whether it bothers to transmit a signal during the summer when the town is deserted I’d be curious to know.  But now it, most appropriately, it dredges up exclusively, oldies from the sixtys and seventys – not surprising when you consider who the audience is.  I enjoy it.

The disparity between the summer and winter populations seems to present a dilemma to the cellular telephone service providers.  During the peak season when the big RV show is taking place, late January, the signal is overwhelmed and service is slow.  I have to wait until late at night, for example, to send out my blog post.  The show ended yesterday and the ranks are thinning so, hopefully, this post will make it out during daylight hours.

We too, will be leaving.  It should come as no surprise that RVers tend to be a restless bunch.  If they were content to stay in one place they’d be sitting on the couch at home.  Always curious what is on the other side of the distant mountains, we’re thinking of heading east toward Tucson.

P1030316.JPGFEELING THE “SALT LAKE SQUEEZE”

We’re almost home. We crossed into Washington late this afternoon. The temperature in Spokane was 70 which is higher than the temperature was in Arizona when we left. With the sun heating up our truck cab, we had the air conditioner on all afternoon.

Our route took us from Moab up to I-70. If you’ve never been on I-70 through Utah, signs reading “NEXT SERVICES 116 MILES” pretty much sums it up.

I think about 99% of Utah’s people must live in the Provo-Salt Lake City area because we had the highways to ourselves until we got to Provo and then it was five lanes of packed traffic. I drive a consistent 60 MPH but I really stand out in Utah where the speed limit is 75 MPH (trucks included.) More than once I had two big trucks on either side of me squeezing the bejeezus out of me (above.)

With the warm weather this year we decided to drive for a change through Montana instead of the I-84 route through Idaho and Oregon. I-15 through Montana makes I-70 through Utah seem like a traffic jam! We probably saw about ten cars per hour and nearly every one of them had Alberta license plates – Canadian snowbirds returning home.

We crossed the Continental Divide twice today and got a sneak preview of the country we’ll be bicycling through this summer: gently rolling hills of grass at those two crossings.

And so, another winter in Arizona ends. Our next project is building daughter Rachel’s house. We’ll keep you posted.

P1030313.JPGOUR CAMPSITE AT WINDWHISTLE

We had planned to head home several days ago but a check of the weather on our chosen route through Utah, Idaho, and Montana forecasted cold and possible snow so we turned around and went back to a campsite thirty miles south of Moab (above.)

Anywhere but the Colorado Plateau and this pile of sandstone would be renown but here in southern Utah it is practically unknown and nameless. Too much of anything and the senses adapt, even dull.

I was out riding my bicycle on one of the many dirt roads near our campsite when I noticed a distant sandstone formation with what looked like several buildings at its base. I rode over to investigate. Turns out the buildings were not at the base of the sandstone, they were imbedded in it!

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A young woman was out front walking two small children. I stopped to talk with her. She was quite friendly and open. I said I had never seen houses imbedded in rock before and wanted to know more about the place. She told me her grandfather had bought the mountain thirty years ago and that all the people who lived there are related.

This was Utah, remember, and the word “related” raised the specter of polygamy. I didn’t want to put the friendly young woman on the spot so I didn’t pursue the matter. She went on to tell me that the colony is called Rockland Ridge.

When I got back to the trailer I Googled the matter and learned that The Atlantic had actually profiled the place: http://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2012/11/polygamists-in-the-rock/100406/

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With a promise of good weather, we left Windwhistle Camp this morning. We’re now “camping” for tonight at the WalMart lot in Idaho Falls. We hope to make it to Couer d’Alene tomorrow and Chelan the day after.

P1030294.JPGMARY GOES DOWN, INTO THE EARTH, TO GET OUT OF THE RAIN, BOOM, BOOM, BOOM

We’ve been up on a mesa near Moab for the last four days – stranded without Internet. Oh, the horror! No weather forecast, no Internet shopping, no email. Oh, the horror! We’re back down in Moab and connected once again.

The mountain biking was good up there. You ride across the mesa in any direction and come to these chasms carved by the Colorado or Green Rivers and it seems you are looking into the planet’s interior – so deep are the canyons. The photo above shows Mary riding down a road to Mineral Bottom on the Green River. Going down tested her brakes. Coming back up tested her thighs. (Her thighs are great.) Here’s a view from the bottom looking up.

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We’ve been looking at real estate this winter in Arizona but it wasn’t until today that we found a house we could afford:

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We’re getting ready to continue our northern migration so today we drove up into Arches National Park before we leave. We visited it back in the 90s but we wanted to have another look. It was well worth a second look.

A cold front is coming and high winds today heralded its arrival. Mary had to lend a hand (finger?) to support the famous Balance Rock at Arches which was in danger of being blown off its pedastal:

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P1030290.JPGSPRUCE TREE HOUSE

Back in the 90s when we had our first RV, a little green Terry trailer, and the kids were kids, we took a Chevy-Chase-style summer vacation through Dinosaur, Flaming Gorge, and Arches National Parks. For some reason which I have forgotten, we skipped Mesa Verde. I remember that I was intrigued by photos of the ancient, abandoned Pueblos of Mesa Verde and wanted to go there – but we didn’t.

Well, with all the stars aligned this year, we just had to go, and go we did a few days ago. But folks, I gotta tell ya, Mesa Verde National Park was disappointing.

In the first place, the weather was overcast which doesn’t help. When we checked at the Visitor Center we learned that much of the park doesn’t open until May so many of the popular sights simply weren’t available for us, including the campsites. We checked at a commercial campsite outside the park and it was $40 – $50. For a skinflint like me that was a real turnoff.

Outraged by the disappointments, we were on our way to greener pastures when I decided that we needed to turn around and see whatever we could in the park.

We drove up the steep road onto the mesa (which, by the way, should be called Mesa Gris (gray mesa) not Mesa Verde (green mesa.) So many fires have burned through the park that only dead wood is visible.

The only pueblo that was open was one called Spruce Tree House (see photo.) After the pristine nature of the Hovenweep ruins, Spruce Tree House seemed sullied – about like a Disneyland version of a ruin where stucco and paint simulate stone and timber. Or perhaps an aging woman unsuccessfully trying to cover her age with makeup. I suppose wear and tear is inevitable when thousands of little kids run their greasy hands over the surface of things. But what is this? Do I see the telltale patina of spray paint?

I mentioned this to Mary but she wouldn’t accept it. She put the question to the attending ranger who denied that the Park Service had painted the ruin. But closer inspection confirmed my suspicion. Cement-based mortar had been used to repair the stone wall. In places it had been rubbed off and the cement color was clearly visible. The rest of the ruin had a uniform tan color that closely approximated sandstone – but not quite. Anyone who has seen graffiti painted over knows the look. I don’t know if the ranger was lying or merely ignorant but this is not what I expect of the Department of the Interior – painting ruins and then lying about it!

We beat a hasty retreat to nearby Moab, Utah – a mountain biking mecca with red sandstone in every direction. The Moab I remembered from our last vacation as a place where outdoor enthusiasts outnumber all other forms of humanity is still here. We are camped atop a mesa out of town on BLM land – good ol’ BLM where the nightly fee is $7.50 and the mountain biking trails are everywhere.

It was rather cold and windy yesterday so we decided to forego a bike ride until today. We went over to nearby Dead Horse State Park and took a hike. The red sandstone is awesome – unless of course they PAINTED IT AND THEN LIED ABOUT IT!

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P1030288.JPGHIGH FIVING ON THE MOVE

Mary’s prowess as a mountain biker continues to grow. We did a nineteen-miler today to several other “ancestral puebloan” ruins. There was some steep, rocky climbing at several points and she did an admirable job of maneuvering over the rough parts. I had to high five her after one heroic (and successful) effort. While my congratulations may cast her accomplishments as travails, she clearly has been enjoying the rides.

On the way home from today’s ride we came to a cattle guard which Mary, out of caution, slowed down to cross. I hit it at full speed, “jumping” my bike over it, to which Mary’s response was a rolling of eyes and shaking of head.

“You’re like a little kid sometimes” was her expressed analysis of my behavior.

She may have a point there. At the beginning of today’s ride was a steep hill which I attacked by standing on my pedals and going all out. It felt good to cut loose. I usually have that feeling at the beginning of an outing, be it a hike or a bike ride. I think I am not unlike a third-grader let out to recess at times like these. While I don’t actually remember being a third-grader let out to recess, I have often noted the way little kids run with abandon around a playground. How different from even slightly older kids, say fifteen-year-olds, they are. It’s the same with animals. Look at colts, calves, and lambs. They all run and kick up their heels for the sheer joy of exertion.

A case of arrested development? Sometimes Mary wonders. My take is that I’m fortunate at 65 to still feel such impulses.

But then there is also my lack of fashion sense. I was reading aloud from a Park Service handout today as we stood on a cliff looking at some ruins when Mary started chuckling.

“What’s so funny?” I asked.

“Look at you with your dorky helmet” she managed after a lengthy fit of chuckles.

She may have a point there; duct tape is probably not haute couture but it is functional:

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Mary has informed me on more than a few occasions that she would never have given me a second look if we had gone to the same high school. Although she denies it, I suspect Mary was one of the cool kids. I’ve seen her high school yearbook photos and she was definitely a looker, which, if you’re a chick, translates into cool.

In any case, I don’t dignify such assaults on my coolness with a reasoned defense. My standard response is: “Hey, you married me” which I think settles the matter. Besides, I think Mary likes my dorkiness. Her derision always seems tinged with affection and I’ve got 35 years of marriage to back me up.

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Matthew and Teneille (our son and daughter-in-law) gave us a picture book for Christmas entitled Off the Beaten Path which state-by-state highlights little-known sights to see. One of the entries for Utah is a place called Hovenweep National Monument – a place neither of us had ever heard of but since we were in the neighborhood (southeast corner of Utah) we decided to give it a look.

The turnoff from UT191 for Hovenweep is an inconspicuous, faded, brown sign that would be easy to miss if you weren’t looking for it. Once we turned, the spacious pavement of Highway 191 quickly narrowed down to a thin layer of patched and re patched asphalt from which the yellow dotted line had long since faded. A small sign announced that it would be a 28-mile journey to Hovenweep. The road bounced and snaked through several washes then rose up several hundred feet to a sage-covered plateau which for many miles showed no sign of human habitation.

After what seemed at least ten miles of travel we came to a sign that informed us that Hovenweep was another 22 miles ahead. Could the highway department be playing games with us? we both wondered (28-10=22????.)

Thirty minutes into the drive we had met only a single vehicle. We began to have second thoughts about this Hovenweep place. Was it worth seeing? Would it be open? Would the trailer get mired in mud? Did it really exist? That old TV show, The Twilight Zone, in which weird things happen to unsuspecting people, crossed my mind, with us as the unsuspecting couple and Hovenweep as some chimera where weird stuff happens.

We eventually did see a few houses. They seemed to be arranged as a compound and, this being polygamy country, we wondered if some “Big Love” might be going on inside those walls. When we shortly passed two guys with foot-long grey beards talking by their pickups along the roadside we had our proof.

When at last we turned in to the Visitor Center at Hovenweep there was only one car in the parking lot. It was with suspicion in my eyes that I opened the Visitor Center door and peered around. A normal looking human dressed in a Park Service uniform stood behind the counter. He was the only person in the room. A brief conversation about the monument’s facilities was sufficient to satisfy me that the likelihood of an ambush by aliens was minimal (hey, those aliens are tricky!)

But after all our misgivings, the campground turned out to be a very nice campground. Of course, there were only two other campers in the campground but they looked human. And the monument is spectacular! Take a look at these photos:

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I would have guessed Hovenweep is a Dutch town (“Ja, they make good cheese over in Hovenweep.”) ¬†Actually, Hovenweep is a Paiute word meaning “deserted valley.” Archeologists have determined that about 800 years ago this area was inhabited by a community of several hundred Indians that left behind these impressive examples of stone masonry.

It amazes me that this place isn’t more well-known.

We did an 8-mile hike today to another village ruin that is even more impressive than the one near the Visitor Center. Even the hike over there was unique. At the beginning and the end the trail passes through long (50-ft,) narrow slots in enormous boulders that are barely wide enough for a normal person to squeeze through (sign suggestion: NO FAT HIKERS)

P1030275.JPGMARY IN THE SLOT

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Most amazing to me is that these buildings have withstood 800 years of weathering. The mortar between the stones appears to be nothing more than mud. Look at the base of the tower built on that boulder. Those base stones are somehow “glued” to a steeply-angled surface. Beats me how they did that without Thin-Set. And most of these structures are built atop enormous boulders that have separated from the hillside. The sheer size of those boulders in that setting brought to mind that line from Genesis: “And in those days there were giants in the earth.” I would add “and talented stone masons too.”

P1030254.JPGSTANDING ON A CORNER IN WINSLOW ARIZONA (such a fine sight to see?)

After leaving Payson, we drove northeast into the giant Navajo Reservation. As every Baby Boomer knows, Winslow is the town The Eagles made famous in their song, Takin’ It Easy.

“Well I’m standin’ on a corner
In Winslow Arizona.
Such a fine sight to see
It’s a girl, my lord
In a flatbed Ford
Slowin’ down to take a look at me”

I can only imagine that guy (the songwriter) was eager to get a ride out of Winslow because there isn’t much there that I could see. Except, that is, that unusual little car behind me in the photo. That’s a Crosley. Never heard of it? Neither had I. I looked it up and they were built from 1939 – 1952. The first model sold for $250! Crosley was allowed to build them during WWII when the other car manufacturers had to switch to military vehicles because this car got 50 mpg and there was a gasoline shortage nationwide.

From Winslow we went north to Canyon de Chelly National Monument which I have always wanted to see but because it is so off the beaten path, I’d never been willing to make the effort. We’re glad we went. Look at these photos:

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I can’t get enough of the reddish sandstone canyons of Arizona and Utah. Canyon de Chelly is beautiful enough but my complaint is that the Park Service only allows you to see it from the rim. In order to enter the canyon you have to hire a Navajo guide. The one exception is a single 1.5-mile trail when enabled me to get the above photos of Mary (or should I say Bright Eyes? In accordance with Navajo tradition, Mary and I have adopted descriptive names while we’re on the Rez. I am known as Farts Like a Horse.)

P1030267.JPGFARTS LIKE A HORSE AND BRIGHT EYES

We drove the North Rim the first afternoon at Canyon de Chelly. Next day we drove the South Rim but we were pressed for time because checkout time at the campground was noon. This resulted in us swerving into each of the five overlooks, taking a quick look, and racing to the next one – sometimes a little sooner than Mary would have liked:

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I don’t know how anyone can drive through the Navajo Reservation and not be struck by the poverty. At least I imagine poverty is responsible for the dilapidated state of housing here. We have seen thousands of homes as we pass through the reservation and not a single one, not a single one can be described as anything but a shanty – not a blade of grass, not one rose bush – nothing but dirt and peeling paint. And the most remarkable thing is that the run-down nature of the houses is across-the-board. Apparently there are no rich Navajos – everyone is poor. The only buildings on the reservation that look halfway decent are the schools. The schools could pass for schools anywhere in America. It is truly bizarre.

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We’ve been having some great rides in the Arizona backcountry this winter which have served the double purpose of immediate gratification and preparation for our upcoming Great Divide ride. In the back of our minds as we tool down these desert roads is what will the terrain be like next summer when we ride from the Canadian border to the Mexican border on back roads along the Continental Divide? Do we have what it takes to climb all those grades and deal with those ruts in the trail?

We have two continent-crossing road rides under out belts but mountain biking is a horse of a different color. Our newly-purchased mountain bikes have performed very well and we have high hopes.

I’ve done some backcountry riding over the years but it’s new to Mary. She was very cautious on our first few outings: she would often walk down hills for fear of falling. She was also reluctant to tax herself on the uphills. The more we ride though, the stronger and more confident she becomes. We were out for two and one half hours today and there was no dismounting and she kept up a good pace over some rugged mountain roads. But the corker was when she came zooming by me near the end of the ride and shouted (I thought) “Wanna see some butt in you face?!” – which I did as she rocketed ahead of me in a cloud of dust.

“No more Cautious Mary” I thought. “This girl’s going to give me a run for my money!”

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I caught up to her and asked her if I had heard her correctly. She laughed and said what she had actually yelled was “Did you get some bugs in your face?” (Apparently she had.)

Be it bugs or butt, Mary’s skill on a mountain bike has steadily improved and it’s fine with me if she pulls ahead and gives me her butt to look at.