Traveling full-time in an RV can make it challenging to keep in touch with friends. Thank goodness for the internet — email, Facetime, Facebook, Messenger, and this blog have helped to bridge the gap.
Traveling in an RV can also make it possible to reacquaint ourselves with friends from 50 years ago (Barbie and Jeff in D.C.!), to visit with Maine snowbirds in their away-from-Maine homes, and to make and foster NEW friendships along the way.
A dear friend who splits her time between Maine and Idaho caught up with me on Facebook and asked if we could get together when we came through her area. Jean suggested that we meet in the beautiful city of Couer d’Alene to have lunch and then take a boat ride on the lake. She brought along her daughter, one of her sons, and her granddaughter (all of whom I’d heard so much about). We had a ball! This part of the country is simply magnificent — we managed a short hike before lunch and even biked 10 miles on the famed Couer d’Alene Bike Trail after dinner. So good to see you, Jean! See you in Maine this summer. 🙂
While on the Arizona desert, we made friends with several couples. Lydia (a fellow Quartzsite Quilter) and Tom spend their non-desert time in their home in Helena, Montana. They were kind enough to invite to “mooch-camp” in their yard (we hooked up to their water but used our solar power) and it was terrific! We got to know them so much better—they were amazingly generous and couldn’t wait to share their beautiful part of the Big Sky world with us!
Tom took Al on an 80+ mile ride up into the mountains on his flashy new Razr (4-wheeler). What a ball they had! Even though it was early May, there was still plenty of snow up in them thar hills and that determined the length of their ride. I’m quite sure that Al and Tom will find plenty of places to explore this winter when Lydia and I are at quilting club.
(Al) We rode up to the continental divide. Beside the amazing views, it is quite something to realize that all the rain falling on one side goes to the Pacific, and on the other side it flows to the Caribbean and Atlantic.
Lydia and I had quite an adventure ourselves! Lydia couldn’t wait to show me several of her favorite quilt shops. Even though Helena is the state capital, it’s not a terribly large city. It supports a number of successful quilt shops which I found amazing.
As we drive/ride outside of the Northeast, we are struck by the speed limits. 80 mph is the posted limit in so many places! It’s not at all unusual to be able to see 40 or 50 miles ahead—little dots in front of the huge mountains turn out to be farms. Traveling 80+ miles to go out for dinner isn’t a big deal to those in Big Sky territory. Think about it: in the same time it would take us to drive back and forth between Bass Harbor and Bar Harbor, we could be nearly 80 miles away. But we don’t. When we’re pulling Rhett, we don’t go faster than 60.
We learned that the Missouri River headwaters are in Montana! The river actually begins at the confluence of the Madison, Jefferson, and Gallatin Rivers near Three Forks, Montana. We followed miles and miles of the Missouri and it was breathtaking: huge, still a bit brown with snowmelt and erosion, and marked with a number of beautiful falls where water flow is managed and electric power is generated.
Just past Great Falls, we stopped at the very impressive Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. We spent a thorough two hours learning so much more about the incredible adventurers who answered President Jefferson’s charge to check out what the U.S. had just “purchased” or was it “acquired”? This was one of many, many times on this trip where we were reminded of the very complicated relationship between the Native Americans and the white man. It took us right back to our church’s mission trip to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota some twelve years ago. It still hurts.
Tom and Lydia showed us a terrific time and we’re already talking about the next time. They say we’ve barely scratched the surface!
We are LOVING the West—South Dakota and Yellowstone NP blog entries will come in short succession here. We’re trying to catch up at a time when the driving distances can be long and we’re spending most of our time away from our computers enjoying all that’s here to see and explore.
We started out by camping in Sol Duc (Sole Duck), deep in Olympic National Park. The campground was run by the concessionaire, and was part of the Sol Duc Resort. We sort of lucked into this one via Sir Google; there are actually two campgrounds in Sol Duc that take RVs. The other one was heavily wooded and we would probably not have been successful getting Scarlet and Rhett in there. The one we had was small (about 15 sites), but wide open. The site was nestled in a grove of birch trees.
It was also a short walk to one of Sol Duc’s main attractions: thermal springs! We spent quite a bit of time soaking… The spring water is 150°, and is mixed with the river water to the desired temp for each of three pools. The hot one was hot enough that even I couldn’t stay in it for more than about 10 minutes—and I love hot baths! Just like in the Three Bears, the middle one (temperature) was just right.
Ummm. Sorry. No pictures; we were too busy relaxing!
You may have heard that the Pacific Northwest (PNW) gets a LOT of rain. There are several rainforests within the park. We were not in one, but looking around at the trees it sure looked like it. The older trees were covered in moss!
There are several trails leading out of the Sol Duc campgrounds; we encountered some deer browsing just off one of the trails.
We followed one of the trails out to the Sol Duc waterfall.
On the way back home (yes, the trailer really is “home”) we found another waterfall, albeit not quite as large.
Sol Duc is completely surrounded by mountains. Nice scenery! Lousy connectivity! For the first time ever, we had to send a text message out through the Garmin Inreach satellite communicator that we carry for back country emergencies. (It wasn’t an emergency…)
Sol Duc is southwest of Port Angeles, which seems to be the major town on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the northern boundary of the Olympic Peninsula. Crescent Beach is a little west of Port Angeles, but is on the shore of the Strait.
Being here made us appreciate Oregon’s beach access law. Directly across the road from the campground was “their” beach, but “don’t go past the rainbow pole! That’s not our beach and you’ll be trespassing.”
About 1/2 way toward the trees in the distance, the beach belongs to someone else, and campers can’t go there. Sigh.
Nevertheless, it was a beautiful setting and we enjoyed strolling on the sand.
Kathe normally beachcombs for sea glass, but we haven’t been successful finding any in the PNW. Here she was looking for…
We had a visitor.
But what are all those dark spots on the beach? Something is living in the sand (clams?). It leaves two kinds of markings.
Please leave a comment if you know what animal is creating these tracks and the… what shall I call them?
Sometimes I wonder about the people who lay out campgrounds. Who would think that putting the sewer connection at the highest point in the site would be a good idea? Remember: it flows downhill!
Crescent Beach isn’t part of Olympic National Park, but we went back into the park to visit Hurricane Ridge on the recommendation of a friend who is a former park ranger there. So, so, so glad!
Also we were so glad that we didn’t have our trailer hooked up to our truck for this one! The road up the ridge is steep and twisty. But the views are worth it. Down at sea level the skies were gray and cloudy, so we almost didn’t go. (Note to self as a future reminder… Always go!) Up top? Take a look!
Despite the name, the weather was quite mild with calm winds. We enjoyed our hike to the end of the currently open trail. The remaining trail to the peak of Hurricane Hill was still closed due to snow.
And there was still lots of snow on the ridge. Some people like to fight with Darwin’s attempts to clean the gene pool. The pictures below are at the top of a very steep slope down into the valley.
They are doing a lot of work on the trail up to Hurricane Mountain. It seems like they are widening it, and are using a lot of large rocks along the up-slope edge of the trail. I was quite surprised to see what appear to be ferns on this rock. I don’t know whether they are fossilized in the rocks, or somehow imprinted on the rock after it was split. I suspect the latter, but…
Unexpectedly, Fort Worden turned out to be the highlight of our time on the peninsula. Located on the northeast corner of the peninsula, with the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the north and west, and Puget Sound to the east and south, it was the main one of three forts that guarded Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, and Seattle. The driving force for the creation of the fort was the shipyard, not the city! Fort Worden was built between 1898 and 1917 in the second wave of the Endicott Board forts; the first wave (of which Fort Stevens was part) was built before the establishment of the shipyard when defense of the Sound was not deemed critical. The fort was activated with the arrival of the first troops in 1902, and served in both World Wars I and II. The gun emplacements were never used; the guns were removed in WWI, for use in Europe. The primary use for the fort after that was training.
Reduce, reuse, recycle! Fort Worden is a poster child for reuse. Decommissioned by the Army in 1953, it was purchased by the State of Washington in 1957 to become “Fort Worden Juvenile Diagnostic and Treatment Center,” for troubled youth. This center closed in 1971, and in 1973, Washington re-created it as the current state park. For a more detailed history of this fascinating fort, read Fort Worden: Rebirth Through Decay, by Peter St. George.
What makes Fort Worden special, compared, for instance, to Fort Stevens, is that a large number of its original buildings are intact. Most other forts of this era have had their (mostly wooden) structures torn down leaving only the foundations.
A Public Development Authority (PDA) was created by the city of PortTownsend, WA, to
The state still owns the property; the PDA has a 99 year lease on the buildings. The PDA is renovating the existing buildings to enable other uses. The base hospital is now a remote campus for Goddard College. Local businesses at the fort include two publishing / printing companies, a yoga studio, a massage therapist, the Port Townsend School of the Arts, and Centrum Arts Foundation. There are concert series, with some of the larger concerts held in the WWI-era balloon hangar!
The officers’ and NCOs’ residences and a dormitory are being refurbished and furnished with antique period furniture. These are available for rental, from 30 beds down to three or four. Apparently many family reunions and some weddings book there. We were taken on a tour by one of the PDA board members! We were so gobsmacked by what we were walking through that we forgot to take any pictures. (Us? Forget pictures???) But you can see some of the refurbished officer’s houses and other residences on the PDA’s website. (You can also reserve time in them on those pages, if you will be in the PNW.)
Finally, not all of the buildings remain. There are foundations here too, all that is left of some of the quarters. The PDA is in the process of building new structures there, within the original building footprints.
The state park also includes the remains of the gun emplacements, in pretty much the same state as those we found in Fort Stevens. However, we found some types that we didn’t see in Oregon.
The fort was constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers. Being engineers, they were very detailed. Being the Army, meticulous records were kept. Here are some pictures of the plan for the three inch anti-aircraft gun mounts pictured above.
North 317.39 feet, East 231.25 feet. But from where? The entire fort was laid out from a single benchmark, which still exists.
The trees have grown in the many years since the fort was active, but in some places you can still see what the soldiers would have seen.
In other areas, you can’t.
We’re now over 20,000 miles into our adventure, and are still having a great time.
A long-planned highlight of our spring was our visit to Beth and Jon’s family in Vancouver, BC. Planned in two parts, it exceeded our already high expectations. We had a wonderful time!
The first part of our visit was a weekend joint camping trip to Alice Lake Provincial Park. We arranged for two adjacent campsites so that we would all be together. An idea that we haven’t seen in US parks is to have a subset of campsites set up as pairs, and reservable only as a pair. It makes family camp outs much easier to arrange.
Our plan was that Kasper and Nyssa sleep with us in the RV, and Jon and Beth would be in their tent. They had primarily camped in the summer before; we all found out that late April was not quite the same. EVERYONE ended up sleeping in the camper, to stay warm!
After our stay at Alice Lake, we all went back to Vancouver; we stayed at the only campground actually in Vancouver proper, just north of the wonderful Stanley Park, and about 20 minutes from Beth and Jon’s apartment via Vancouver’s excellent public transportation system. (We were not about to try to drive our truck, Scarlett, in Vancouver!)
Note to selves: Do NOT put your transit card, loose, in the same pocket with your phone in a sticky Otter case. We each lost a card when we pulled our phone out.
One of the things that we missed living on the coast of Maine was a variety of cuisines, particularly Asian. Vancouver has plenty! We had Japanese (Sushi) (twice!), Afghani, and several others. Unfortunately, we ran out of nights before we could make a dent in the variety.
Kasper and Nyssa spent two more nights with us while in Vancouver. For those who don’t already know it, one of a grandparent’s most important duties is spoiling the grandkids. We take our duties seriously! What better way to do it than by having chocolate ice cream for breakfast!
Kasper and Grandpa also shared some good time together, working on K’s first book of logic puzzles, e.g., “Rita married Joe, but not on Wednesday. Carla was married on Sunday on the village green. Who did Tess marry?” The major learning from this was that Grandpa needs to (re-)start doing these as well! I loved these as a kid, but I’ve lost the knack. We also worked on ways to present data… How to graph seven different aspects of each of 12 chapters in Roald Dahl’s “Danny the Champion of the World.”
We visited Science World, a must-stop on each of our visits. Their current featured exhibit is a hall of mirrors… No, you can’t just walk straight ahead in the picture below!
And Kasper got to be part of the presentation team in a chemistry demonstration!
Vancouver also has many playgrounds scattered around the city…
Kasper had a birthday very near our visit, and Grandma had a VERY special birthday present ready for him. A handmade robot quilt!
One of the (many) highlights of our visit was being able to attend Beth’s concert. Celebrating the director’s twenty years with the choir, it was titled simply, “Donna’s Favorites.”
In a surprise ending, a sextet from the choir gave the premiere performance of a commission using Emily Dickinson’s poem, “It’s All I Have to Bring Today” as the text. Set to music by Donna’s favorite composer, Larry Nickel, it is dedicated to Donna Brown.
Our visit ended all too soon; it was time to head to Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.
In a workshop we took with the amazing photographer/writer Colleen Miniuk, I learned that before I capture the image, I should title it. Yup. Before I even push the button.
That has stuck with me.
We camped recently in Mount Vernon, Washington. When we made our reservation, the campground owner made mention of the fact that since we’d be there “after the big crowds,” he had space for us.
Imagine our thrill when we learned upon checking in, that the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival was ongoing! The busiest time was the weekend just before we arrived but there were still fields and fields of tulips to enjoy (and far smaller crowds).
After we settled in, we grabbed our cameras and took off in the truck to take in tons of terrific tulips. It was totally astonishing!
Roozengaarde features a five acre display garden planted with over a half million bulbs, a 25 acre tulip field and 20 acre daffodil field. Tulip Town has another half million bulbs planted. The entire event goes on for the entire month of April (but sometimes the tulips are a bit early or late). The festival includes dozens and dozens of coordinated events in the region, everything from parades to fun runs, art shows to salmon barbecue dinners, and classes of all kinds.
We enjoyed a scrumptious salmon dinner sponsored by the local Kiwanis Club; it’s their biggest fundraiser of the year. It was a great way to meet and support the locals.
Back to the tulips. Here are a few of my favorites.
Roozengaarde was founded when William Roozen emigrated from Holland in 1947. The family began raising tulips in Holland in the mid-1700’s and has continued through at least six generations. It is now the largest tulip-bulb grower in the country and farms 2000 acres!
Here is a gallery of the rest of my favorites — hope you enjoy them! Click on any picture to view them all as a slide show.
From Sequoia National Park, we boogied pretty quickly up to the Oregon coast. We wanted to encapsulate this part of the adventure into one post rather than sending several with only a day or two apart, so it is a bit long. Go get a cup of tea or other beverage of your choice.
Here’s what I really wanted the title of this post to be, but it is (way) too long!
Let’s get the “Weed” out of the way. Oregon was the first state to decriminalize marijuana possession in 1973, although it didn’t legalize recreational marijuana until 2014—two years after Colorado and California. There are “Cannabis Dispensaries,” “Bud Barns,” and “Pot Shops” everywhere you look. It seems every small town has one or two. No, we didn’t partake.
The Oregon coast is amazingly beautiful. We went up US 101, which runs near the coast—at times, right along it. There are many sea stacks (very large rocks out in the water), which together with frequent cliffs on the shoreline make excellent targets for the waves to crash against. It is frequently very foggy!
In the sections below, you can paste the latitude and longitude into Google maps to see where we camped…
Gold Beach: 42.536509 -124.396648
We had been advised to check out the area around Gold Beach by many people. We found Honey Bear RV Resort and Campgrounds a little north of there. As we drove in the campgrounds’s driveway, I noticed two small elk in a field. Cool! We decided to have dinner in the campground’s restaurant (is that what makes it qualify as a “resort?” I still don’t understand the distinctions…), and I was carrying my camera with me as I often do in new places. A man came up to us, and asked if we’d like to get some pictures of elk. Of course! Our order had just gone into the kitchen so we had some time.
We followed the man out of the restaurant, down the road a bit, and then he turned and said, “I normally don’t let campers in here, but this is the best place to get elk pictures.” He was the campground owner!
Kathe and I walked down to the beach just before sunset. Our first night on the coast…
Gold Beach is just past the north end of the Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor. Coming north from California, we had decided that we would drive past the sights to get to the campground, and then return south without the trailer on our first day at Honey Bear to see all (OK, “some of”) the scenic pull outs the state has marked. We had divided the coast roughly into fourths, with the idea that we’d day trip up and down the coast from our campsites in order to see the sights. Rocks and water! The same draw that made us love Acadia so much.
Aside… Oregon has a crazy number of State Parks—255, to be exact. Incredibly, 93 of those state parks are along the coast! Granted, many of are very small with some being little more than a parking lot for beach or view access. But fifty seven of them have campgrounds, and we made use of two of them.
The Oregon Beach Bill was signed into law in 1967 and established a permanent public easement for access and recreation along the ocean shore seaward of the existing line of vegetation, regardless of ownership. A policy soon followed that provided for public access to the 362 miles of beach at regular intervals.
The next day we headed north on the coast for another day of sea-gazing… This brought us past three of the nine lighthouses on the coast, and many more spectacular shore vistas!
Florence: 43.922106 -124.113042
Dunes… The only sand dunes I had experienced were on the Outer Banks of North Carolina’s shore. They were big! Ummm… Not as big as Oregon’s dunes.
The Oregon Dunes National Recreational Area stretches for over 40 miles, and encompasses 31,500 acres. For part of its stretch near Florence, it is bordered by the Honeyman State Park, our next stop. The dunes near Florence are not the tallest in this huge dune field, so where we saw them they weren’t as tall as in NC. Our particular campsite was backed by a steep, thickly vegetated hillside. I’ll guess it was 50 to 60 feet high. I found a nearby trail and went up. When I got to the top, the other side was sand dunes! We were right on the edge of the recreational area.
Kathe and I hiked into the dunes in another spot a few miles away. There, the dunes were heavily grassed, and the dunes went right down to the beach.
Depoe Bay: 44.860257 -124.04309
They advertise the Sea and Sand RV Park as “Camping on the beautiful Oregon Coast.” They aren’t kidding! Driving to our campsite we thought we were going to drive right into the ocean.
Come ride with us, and remember that we have over seven tons of trailer pushing us down the hill.
We had possibly the best space in the campground (94, if you want to book it). There were no more sites on our door side, so no neighbors there, and we were on the third of three tiers, about 60 feet above the ocean with a completely unobstructed view! Simply amazing. Apparently this site is usually booked a year ahead of time; we had called about a week and a half before, so someone must have just cancelled! Hooray for us! (As we were getting ready to leave, another camper stopped by to tell us that they had just booked the site for this same week, next year…)
There is a downside to camping this near the ocean. The waves make a lot of noise all night. I know… poor me.
Someone turn the waves off! I can’t sleep!
Tillamook: 45.428327 -123.937862
This was the least picturesque stop on our trip up the Oregon coast. There is a large dairy processing plant which produces mostly cheese but also ice cream and yogurt, known locally as “The Cheese Factory.”
“Are you going to the Cheese Factory??” “Have you been to the Cheese Factory?” Everyone in the area wants to know… Apparently it is The Big Thing in the area.
They have an interesting self-guided tour via a glass-walled walkway above the factory floor. I was surprised to learn that it takes less than 24 hours for the milk arriving in the tanker truck to be turned into a block of cheese ready for aging. According to a Tillamook website, the warehouse next door where they age the cheese accounts for about ten percent of the nation’s cheese supply. I guess it is a Big Thing!
Coastal scenery wise, there is a “three capes drive,” which held promise. But most of the time the road was behind trees, and the access to the capes was via hikes of a mile or more. It was cold and raw, and we decided to not hike it.
We did get to one part where we could drive to the shore. We almost got stuck one more time in deep loose sand! Fortunately, we didn’t have the trailer with us this time…
There at the beach we saw these folks having fun on the winds from the ocean hitting the dunes to give them lift.
In addition to the elk, above, we saw sea lions at several locations, as well as large colonies of birds.
Astoria / Fort Stevens: 46.181835 -123.965693
Fort Stevens is the farthest north state park in Oregon, and also the largest. We were in a very nice campground of over 500 sites, which actually had full hookups for RVs: 50 amps, water, and sewer. Sewer hookups are very rare in state parks! We saw another Solitude (our type of trailer) with a different floor plan and much more storage capacity. That—or something like it—might be a next camper… but certainly not this year. We’re just getting this one the way we like it!
The address of the park is on Peter Iredale Rd., which got me wondering… “Who was Peter Iredale?”
That was the wrong question. Not who, but what.
The Peter Iredale was a four-masted, steel hulled sailing ship around the turn of the 20th century that carried grain from this area to Australia. (Peter Iredale was one of the owners of the company that owned the ship, so there is also a who—but he’s not the reason that “Peter Iredale” is a common place name in the area.)
The ship was wrecked here during a storm in 1908. Much of her hull was cut up and sold for scrap, but the forward part was left on the beach. Nature will eventually reclaim her, but for now she is an interesting subject for photography.
The land currently occupied by Fort Stevens forms the southern portion of the mouth of the Columbia River, a vital, but very dangerous shipping lane.
The geography was constantly changing as storms moved the land, and deposited much of it on the bottom of the channel, increasing the navigational challenges. The area needed to be stabilized.
There were three jettys built by the US Army Corps of Engineers at the mouth of the river, of which the south jetty is one. It was started in 1885, and the whole project of controlling the mouth of the Columbia took 50 years.
The jetty is four and a half miles long and projected into the ocean one mile; at the time of its completion it was the longest in the world. To build it, they had to first build a railroad track on trestles out into the ocean to transport the rocks.
So why is this “Fort Stevens” State Park?
Fort Stevens was the primary installation of three forts guarding the mouth of the Columbia River. The fort saw duty in the Civil War, Spanish-American war, and World Wars I and II. It started as an earthen construction in the Civil War and was enhanced with large concrete installations for several batteries of ten inch rifles by the First World War. Improvements in ship construction (thicker hulls and steel decks) made those guns largely obsolete by WWII, at which point the river was primarily guarded by a mine field comprising up to 148 mines that were electrically controlled from Fort Stevens. (I had assumed that they were contact mines, but not so.)
Fort Stevens holds the distinction of being one of only two places in the continental US to be fired upon by a foreign power. On June 22, 1942, a Japanese submarine fired nine five inch projectiles at the fort. They landed without harm, and the fire was not returned from the fort. Later, the captain of the sub was quoted as saying that if he had known how many large rifles were at the fort, he would not have been anywhere in the area!
The guns are long gone and the emplacements are deteriorating, but some are still open to be wandered in and on.
We have one more stop before we cross into Canada, to visit with Beth, Jon, and the kids. Can’t wait to get there!
We’re starting to plan our travel after we visit with Beth’s family, and are starting to run into problems finding a campground with available space. We had heard about this, but hadn’t experienced it up until now. We’ve plotted our travels up through the second week of June, and now have to slot in the remaining two weeks until our grandsons Graham and Dean join us to visit National Parks in Utah! Lots of possibilities…
When we first starting considering getting an RV, Al was quite excited about the possibility of dry camping, i.e., living ‘off the grid.’
I wasn’t so sure. All I could picture was Little House on the Prairie: brushing my teeth with a twig, beating my dirty clothes on a rock (while it’s raining, of course), combing baby powder through my hair every week or so, and dragging myself across the dry desert in search of an oasis.
You get the idea.
“It’ll be fun!” “It’ll save us money!” and “We can DO it!” just didn’t cut it for me.
Last year, after we’d made our purchase, but before we had taken ownership of our RV, we flew out to Arizona for one last time sans RV. Al had read extensively about a wide variety of dry camping locations, most of it land owned/managed by the US government: Bureau of Land Management (BLM), US Forest Service, Army Corps of Engineers (COE), and lots more. We wanted to explore our options.
Think of it as ‘shopping for land’ if you were building a house. Kind of.
It was late winter/early spring. We drove through some US Forest Service mudsludgewetlandslogging roads woods. We spotted a couple of campers set some distance off the road beaten path. I couldn’t see a soul. I was convinced that those RVs were set there as a come-on for would-be camping enthusiasts.
Too isolated for me.
We couldn’t find any COE areas near us. We did drive along a stretch of the Colorado River where we saw quite a few campgrounds. RVs were literally inches apart from each other. So close that you could borrow a cup of milk from your neighbor by leaning out the window — never having to leave your rig!
Too crowded for me.
We had read about Quartzsite. An RV mecca in the winter. Snowbird country. Home of a HUGE RV show (the BIG TENT) each year. Rock Capital of the World.
And desert. LOTS and LOTS of desert.
Not that Lawrence of Arabia kind of desert with blowing white dunes. No oases either. And actually a bit more vegetation than I expected.
We had read about the BLM land in Quartzsite where many snowbirds park their rigs and boondock (dry camp) for most of the winter. We stopped at the small brick building at the entrance to LaPosa West; there we found a very friendly host couple volunteering their time to answer questions and register newly-arrived campers. They couldn’t say enough about what a fabulous time they’d had in Q during this, their second winter onsite.
I remember peering out the small window. There were RVs but they were spaced at quite a distance from each other. And I saw people! In a few spots, I could see a group of 3 or 4 campers near each other—a neighborhood!
The hosts encouraged us to hop back into our rental car and drive through the area to check it out. It turns out that this Long-Term Visitor Area (LTVA) is one of a network of seven winter LTVAs across southwestern Arizona and southern California. They pointed out that the BLM area in Q comprises four large areas (LaPosa West, North, South, and Tyson Wash). AND…(drum roll please!) that there are actually a dump station, waterfills, and trash dumpsters at LaPosa South!
Maybe my teeth and hair could possibly be very happy here.
We drove into “town” and it seemed fairly peacefulquiet deserted. Turns out that it was late in the season and many of the snowbirds had left for points north. Knowing all too well about the craziness of ‘tourist season’ (summertime in Acadia National Park), we had a hunch that Q might be just the right spot for us. And all that desert!
Fast forward seven months. We get our eight solar panels installed on the RV (details in this earlier post) along with all of the thingamabobs that will sustain us electrically while on the desert.
Fast forward another six months. We recently left LaPosa South where we spent just over four months. And…WE LOVED IT!
How did we fare? Just great! We learned that:
Having nearly four acres of desert all to ourselves is AMAZING! There are literally miles of land available for camping. Having stayed at so many campgrounds with TIGHT spaces as we came across the US, camping on the desert was a dream.
Paying $180 for an entire SEASON of camping is a sweet deal. You can park on an LTVA — and move from one LTVA to another within the system in SW AZ and SO CA — from Sept 15 thru Apr 15 for just $180.
Navy showers aren’t so bad. Short and sweet.
If you are careful, you can easily go a week before needing to refill your water tank and dump your black/grey tanks.
Wiping off dishes with a paper towel just after eating greatly reduces the amount of water you’ll need for dishwashing.
Pouring your dirty dishpan water down the toilet helps to maintain the black tank.
Eight solar panels can sustain you every day! We only ran our generators 2 or 3 times across the four months we were there (and that was when we’d had two cloudy/rainy days in a row.
You can NEVER get tired of desert sunrises and sunsets.
People are very trustworthy. You can LEAVE your camper on the desert (while you fly to see your kids and grandkids over Christmas) and not a thing is disturbed.
The desert can be VERY windy and dusty; I became quite proficient at wiping down counters and windowsills frequently.
It’s easy to meet new people on the desert.
The rattlesnakes don’t reappear until very late in March.
Many, many people who spend the winter on the desert own and ride their side-by-sides, jeeps, or ATVs all over the desert.
Bicycling on the desert works best if you add an extra-thick gel seat to your bike. It’s also a good idea to wear a stretchy nylon cowl or bandanna over your mouth and nose in case a side-by-side passes by and kicks up dust.
Following the desert bloom is thrilling!
Rockhounding in the Q area is a nearly full-time hobby for many snowbirds. The Q Gem and Mineral Club has so many resources available for novice and experienced rockhounds and lapidarists including classes, use of equipment, rock/gem shows, and lots of rockhounding field trips.
Quartzsite is a hub for so many fabulous things: an incredible public library (large supported by snowbirds); a very active quilting club (my peeps!); welcoming churches; one of the best game stores we’ve ever seen; an amazing number of fairs, festivals, rallies, concerts, hobby clubs, gatherings; and best of all, some fabulous new friends who are certain to be traveling companions.
It was just right. And we’re going back next fall.
We’ve left our winter home of Quartzsite, AZ, and are headed north—initially to Vancouver, BC, to visit our daughter Beth’s family. Can’t wait! As much as we enjoyed being in the desert in Quartzsite (thank you BLM!), it is good to be on the road again and seeing new things.
Our second stop was in Three Rivers, CA, just outside the southern entrance to Sequoia National Park, the second National Park (what was the first???). Nestled in the western flank of the Sierra Nevada mountains, the scenery was gorgeous!
There is a downside to being surrounded by mountains… No cell signal. Nada. Zilch. Zip. It made us long for the very slow connectivity in Quartzsite! However, the campsite had a poor WiFi signal—I think through a satellite—so we could occasionally check our mail / Facebook messages. Sigh. We’re addicted to the net.
The restaurant we went to for breakfast was using dial-up to tie into their credit card system. When was the last time you heard the dulcet (!?) tones of a dial-up modem?
The reason for being here was to go into Sequoia NP, so let’s get to it!
The major attraction here is the trees, of course. In terms of volume (mass), the giant sequoias are the largest living trees. Coastal redwoods can grow taller, but they have a smaller diameter, and don’t retain that diameter at higher heights as much as sequoias do. The sequoias are limited in height due to limits on the capillary action which brings water and nutrients up from the root system. The redwoods can take in moisture through their leaves more efficiently, and thus grow higher than capillary action by itself would allow. (The ranger giving the talk accused the redwoods of “cheating!”—he must be a sequoia fan)
We went up into the mountains to see the tree named “General Sherman,” the largest known living tree in the world, in terms of volume. The diameter at the base is greater than 36 feet! And the volume of its trunk is more than 52,000 CUBIC FEET. It is up at around 6,900 feet elevation; getting there was fun. Vehicles over 22 feet long are prohibited from making the drive. Our truck is exactly 22 feet; we can see why longer vehicles are excluded!
Unfortunately, I forgot to dump the dashcam that evening, and the video of the drive got overwritten. However, here are a few pics showing the road.
I don’t want to think about the effort it took to create the road! The designers did an excellent job of siting it; with very few exceptions the road above you is invisible. Looking down (way down), you can occasionally see the path ahead of you.
We were particularly taken with this roadside wall construction; it is so different from what we were used to at Acadia!
What were we talking about? Oh, yes. The trees!
There are 75 known groves of giant sequoias in the world. The adjacent Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks protect “over 30” (NPS statistic) of those groves. (Three more groves are protected in nearby Yosemite NP.) General Sherman is in the grove named Giant Forest, an apt name if ever there was one. It contains 2,161 sequoias with a base diameter of over ten feet.
The sequoias live for a very long time. The ages of General Sherman and “The Sentinel” (near the museum in Giant Forest) are both estimated to be 2,200 years (“plus or minus 600 years,” according to one research article, we were told by a ranger). A page in the Yosemite NP site refers to a sequoia 3,266 years old, but is written in the past tense, so it may not still be living. Yes, you can buy giant sequoia seeds in the gift shop, but you’d better will them to your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren!
Giant sequoias require fire to reproduce! The fire does two things. It causes the seed cones (should these be called “sequoia cones,” like “pine cones?”) to open and release their seeds, and it removes the debris covering the forest floor so that the seeds can reach the soil and take root. A decades-long policy of complete fire suppression resulted in unhealthy groves with dense underbrush of other trees. That policy has been reversed, allowing some fires to take their natural course; the groves are regaining their health and there are now immature giant sequoias of different ages growing in the forest. There are few trees in the Giant Forest that do not bear signs of fire. Fortunately, they are able to withstand the fires, in part due to a bark that is up to two feet thick.
A good portion of the park is still closed due to snow. It is hard to believe that only a few days ago we were in the desert, with the temps in the high 80’s. When we drove through the park gate, the ranger told us, “You can’t go through to King’s Canyon. The road is closed due to last night’s avalanche.” Never been told that before!
In addition to the trees, the park has high mountains, deep valleys, and fast flowing streams.
Before Europeans discovered this area, indigenous people were here. There is at least one site with pictographs; quite possibly more that they don’t tell visitors about.
And we found this “community kitchen” fascinating.
We enjoy visiting parks “out of season;” not only are the crowds thinner (sometimes non-existent), but it also forces you to come back again to see the parts that are currently closed! Lots more to see here.
Our next post will probably be from the Oregon coast… See you there!
More than anywhere else in the world is a pretty bold claim. But that is just what Los Algodones, Mexico claims. More dentists in a four-block area (the size of the town center / business district) and more dentists per-capita than anywhere else on the face of the earth. According to one report, more than 350 dentists.
Going from just outside Yuma, AZ to Los Algodones Mexico is fairly simple. You walk through a turnstile. No checks, no passports, no guards (at least no visible guards). We crossed the border just to take a look see; we had nothing in mind that we needed to get there.
I tend to believe the claim about dentists! The montage below is a small sampling of the photos I took of the dental storefronts.
And it isn’t just dentists. Los Algodones is a mecca for American and Canadian snowbirds, for dentists, drugs (prescription), and glasses (couldn’t think of an alliterative “d” word for vision things). It is said that on a typical winter day, there are more Canadians in Los Algodones than Mexicans. I’m sure that the same could be said for the Americans.
As you can see from the montage, the dentists offer everything from simple cleanings to implants, the optical stores go from vision tests through delivery of the glasses, and in the pharmacies, no prescriptions are apparently needed. We didn’t make use of them (our medicare drug plan is great), but a neighbor here in Quartzsite told us you just tell them what you’re taking. Simply ‘mazing.
The usual caveats apply. Do your homework. Get recommendations. Talk to your doctor about using Mexican drugs. But we know someone who has been using a dentist there for 15 years, and have been told of a retired dentist who goes there (“a friend of a friend,” so apply judgement). Are Mexican cleanings in our future next year? Maybe. Implants? That would take a lot of convincing.
The prices are much, much lower than in the states and Canada, and everything is negotiable. “How much is this?” “Forty dollars.” “Sorry, too much; have a nice afternoon.” “Wait! How much do you want to pay?” And so it begins.
Let me tell you, Kathe is one good bargainer! One item she got was a dollar over half the original price.
Los Algodones has one business: selling to the snowbirds. We happened to go there on the day they were having a “Goodbye and thanks, snowbirds” party. There were tent booths on the streets with free food and booze… and lines… which we didn’t partake of. But they also had a stage with performances by several dance schools. We stayed there for a while.
In addition to the high profile items (dentists, drugs, and glasses), the people of Los Algodones are happy to sell you other things as well! Leather goods, hats, clothes, jewelry, etc. In addition to the stalls on every sidewalk, there are merchants walking the streets and the restaurants offering you items to buy. “No, thank you.” … “No, thank you.” … “No, thank you.”
“Shoeshine mister? Ten bucks.” “No thanks.” “They need it.” Well, yeah, they did, but I wasn’t in the mood.
Being a geek, one of the things that struck me was the tangle of overhead wires (phone and power). As much as I dislike “telephone” poles and overhead wires in the US, this was overhead wiring of an entirely other order!
We only spent about three hours there; we just wanted to see what all the talk was about. We did have a nice shrimp taco lunch (not all that much cheaper than it would have been in Quartzsite), and then we headed back.
Remember how simple it was to get into Mexico? Well, to come back to the US, we walked across the border, too. But that’s where the similarity ended. Passports, Customs and Border Protection personnel, and a 38-minute line. Can’t complain though. We’re told that later in the day the line can be two hours!
Trivia: Los Algodones is the nickname for Vicente Guerrero. It means “Molar City.”
Sorry, no sunset for this post; we were back in the US and our car by 1:00 PM!
Joshua Tree National Park is a great playground with varied terrain; large portions are covered with myriad granite structures. Some are weathered and rounded, with large smooth (-ish) boulders in the area. Some are jagged with rubble scree at their base instead of the boulders. The geology of the area is complex. From what I’m reading, some of that difference depends on the depth of the magma that was the source. The crystalline structure of much of the granite is quite large and rough; this draws rock climbers from all around the world. We saw many there.
We traveled to Joshua Tree NP with friends James and Gloria, whom we met first at the Grand Design RV Owners’ rally back in January. James is a ham radio operator, so we also went to the Quartzfest gathering together.
The park has two very different ecosystems, the Mojave desert and the Colorado desert; they are distinguished by elevation with the Mojave much higher than the Colorado. Vegetation and animals are different between the two, with the higher Mojave being both wetter and more vegetated, and the Colorado more arid. We spent our first two days in the Mojave desert on the north side of the park, which contains the majority of the Joshua Trees.
The northern part, Mojave desert
The scale of some of the rock formations is hard to get across in pictures, until you see some with people in them. Can you find the four climbers in the picture below? Hint: one of them is the climber in the picture above.
Have you ever looked at the trees in Dr. Seuss’ books, such as the cover of The Lorax? It is said that the Joshua trees are the inspiration for his Truffula trees; he lived and worked in the southern California area.
They are oddly shaped! Twisty and gnarly. But oh, so cool to look at.
Technically, Joshua Trees aren’t trees, but related to the agave. They are long lived, typically living several hundred years. The visitor center was selling Joshua Tree seeds and a little, itty-bitty pot to plant them in. Might work, if the person buying them can wait a few hundred years!
We were very lucky to be there while the Joshua Trees were blooming. There are several fairly distinct stages to the bloom cycle.
A part of the Mojave desert portion of the park holds a Joshua tree forest. It isn’t a dense forest, but there sure are a lot of Joshua trees!
A few more pictures of scenes from the Mojave part of the park that I just found visually magnetic.
Life in the desert is hard. Even for the cholla (CHOY-ah) cacti. The lace-like skeleton of the cholla is interesting.
But life tries hard to find a foothold! (“roothold”?)
The transition zone
Where the two deserts meet is called the “transition zone.” Overlooking the transition zone is the highest point in the park reachable by vehicle, Keys View.
Although the transition zone contains animals from both sections, we saw very little wildlife in the park at all, just a few lizards. We’re just as glad that we didn’t see any of the rattlesnakes which are starting to come out as the days grow warmer. (People camping near us in Quartzsite have seen them!)
The Colorado desert
It is possible to drive from the northern part of the park to the southern part through the park but it is an approximately two hour drive due to the speed limit in the park. We opted to pick up our stakes and bring our rigs to the southern entrance, going around the west side of the park. Part of the reason for moving instead of just doing the southern part as a day trip from the north is that this brought us that much closer to “home,” i.e., Quartzsite.
Going around the park that way on I-8 (or, “the 8,” out here) one comes across this.
If you’re hauling an RV as we were, you better hope it isn’t a windy day! But we’re really glad to see large wind and solar farms. This one went on for miles; it is the largest we had seen since Texas.
There is a BLM dry camping area immediately outside the park at the southern entrance (the area abuts the park). This turned out to be one of the prettiest places we have ever camped, with desert flowers blooming right alongside our camper and all around us, and mountains in the background. We would go back there in a heartbeat!
The southern part of the park has few Joshua Trees. Being more arid, the main vegetation here is various types of cacti. The main draw there, especially this time of year, is the desert bloom—at least it was for us.
This has been an exceptional year for the bloom. We didn’t go to two highly reported areas, one near Tucson and one in Southern California where the authorities had to close a town of 60,000 people when 100,000 people tried to come photograph the flowers one Sunday.
But Joshua Tree was really pretty!
The Cholla Garden
“Be careful! They’ll jump out at you and attack you!” Gloria warned us as we were getting out of the car at the Cholla (CHOY-ah) Garden section of the park.
“Yeah. Ha ha ha ha.” That’s me, of course. (You’d think I would have learned by now…)
I was walking through the garden being careful to not brush against cacti. Then the wind blew a small dropped section against my boot. Instantly about twenty needles were stuck in the leather (thank goodness that I wasn’t wearing sandals or even regular low shoes)! Did I mention that the needles are barbed? Trying to pull the needles out of my boot’s heavy leather simply resulted in them breaking off.
We really enjoyed our three days in JTNP. There is much more to do there, including several hikes we’d like to take. We’ll be back.
So closes another portion of our adventure. We wish you the best on your own adventure through life, whatever it may be!
We’ve been living here on the desert for over three months. The time has gone by so quickly. We are now starting to plan our spring and summer travel; it is almost time to leave.
We’ve come to love it here on the desert. At our own choosing, we can be quiet or busy—with friends or on our own. And, with apologies to all our family and friends still in the colder climes, the weather hasn’t been too bad, either!
Last week, we went with some friends to Palm Canyon, in the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge. According to this, it is the last place in Arizona that California palm trees grow in their native environment. A nice one-mile in-and-out walk, it was our first time up actually near the mountains that surround us.
A comment I had read on the net said that the viewing point was a half mile up the trail, but that the palms themselves could be reached in an additional third of a mile “up a fairly steep trail.”
Yeah. Got rope?
The desert is greening up. We’ve apparently had an unusually large amount of rain this winter. A person we met on the trail said that in a normal year, this scenery would be brown.
And we’re starting to see some flowers blooming. We hope to see more of the “desert bloom” when we go to Joshua Tree National Park in California for a few days this week.
We had been warned that for a few weeks in January Quartzsite is an overcrowded madhouse with long lines, terrible traffic in town and so on due to multiple rock and gem shows, and a big RV show. Additionally, the population on the LTVA (BLM’s Long Term Visitors Area), where we are living, swells. We wanted to avoid all that humanity if we could.
Fortunately in addition to the LTVA, the BLM has six “fourteen day” camping locations in the Quartzsite area. These sites have no services whatsoever, but are free to camp in for 14 days. After that you have to leave for at least fourteen days. If you want to continue to use free BLM land in that time period, you must move at least 25 miles away.
We were fortunate that we had two back-to-back events at a fourteen day area three miles farther out of town than we normally reside: a (yes, another) Grand Design RV owners’ rally, and a ham radio gathering, “Quartzfest.” These allowed us to avoid the worst of the Q-crush. Just to experience the big RV show in town we did ride our bikes there one afternoon; no way we were going to try to drive in and find a parking space. For all the hype surrounding the “big tent” show, we were unimpressed.
We had fun helping with the Quartzsite Quilt Show put on by the local quilting group Kathe is part of! I helped set up (and tear down) the exhibit space, and Kathe was busy before, during, and after the show. The quilts were quite impressive.
Road Trip: Yuma
We spent a week in the Yuma area, staying at BLM’s Imperial Dam LTVA in California with “blast from the past” friends, Henk and Mary.
Arizona didn’t become a state until 1912; Yuma had Arizona’s first prison, in use from 1876 to 1909. A portion of the prison, now called the “Territorial Prison,” is preserved as a state park (part was long ago demolished to make way for a railroad line). There is a museum with many displays about prison life. One showed interesting information about the prisoner demographics; some that stuck out to me were that most of the prisoners were considered to be literate, and virtually all used tobacco of one form or another.
The territorial prison had enlightened leadership. From one of the museum displays:
The Prison had more modern amenities than most homes in Yuma, and Yumans resented that.
Sanitation, including two bathtubs and three showers
A library with 2,000 books, the most in the Territory at the time
Enlightened, progressive administration
Even a Prison Band!
Some of the cells are open to enter, and, of course, pretend to lock your friend in!
From Yuma, Kathe went to Corning to play Grandma Lobster, giving Mike and Laurelyn the opportunity to travel during school vacation week. While Kathe was gone, I went to another ham radio gathering in Yuma.
By the time we got back to Quartzsite it was obvious that the exodus had begun. The desert is emptier again; so is the town. People have started heading north preparing the way for us.
Sunrises and Sunsets
One of the advantages of living on the desert is the essentially unrestricted view of the horizon, especially compared to New England. We have been (usually!) waking up before sunrise, and have gotten in the habit of looking for the sunrise, and again for the sunset every day.
Click on any of the pictures below to see them all as a slideshow of larger versions, and remember you can always right click on any picture in our blog and choose “open image in new tab” or similar, to see the largest resolution that we uploaded..
One other thing…
Drum roll please! When we set out on our adventure, we told ourselves that we would try RV “full-timing” for a year before deciding whether to sell our house on Mount Desert Island.
Well, it hasn’t been a year, but we’ve made the decision! We want to continue this adventure for the foreseeable future, so we will be putting the house on the market this summer. We’ll fly back to MDI to take care of all that has to be done to get a house ready for new occupants.
That’s about it for now. Life has been fairly quiet so we haven’t been posting frequently. Rest assured that as we start to travel again we’ll be keeping you up to date with the activities of your favorite lobsters!