Category Archives: The RV Life

Miscellaneous reflections on what it is like to live full-time in an RV.

What a difference…

What a difference a year makes!

Only now do we realize how much we were in “vacation, ” or “tourist” mode for all of last fall. Go here, see that.

It was a wonderful trip down to the Arizona desert in 2018, taking about 9,000 miles. Hope you enjoyed traveling with us via our posts. But we’ve not made many posts this year (OK, this is only the second one). We have entered fully into “living” mode in the RV.

Having left the northeastern corner of the country for the indeterminate future, we had to decide what to do with doctors. We could keep our current ones, but that would mean returning to Maine and MDI moderately frequently–not the easiest place in the world to travel to. So we decided to create a new locus for our health care needs.

Our current expectation is that the longest period of time that we will spend in any one place for the foreseeable future is here in southwestern Arizona. So we decided to use the Phoenix area as our new medical “home.”

Being the fifth largest city in the US, and being a mecca for retirees, Phoenix has a plethora of doctors: doctors with expertise in the vicissitudes of aging (ageing for those of you outside the US and Canada).

Also, being the 5th largest city comes with first world problems!

So, much of the last several weeks has been spent starting relationships with various doctors in the Phoenix area. One of the advantages of trips to Phoenix is that it has a great ham radio store (and restaurants, well-stocked supermarkets, other stores, and…)!

Kathe had an unresolved issue while being treated in Maine when it came time to leave, so her doctor put us in touch with an appropriate specialist in Phoenix and suggested that we get there sooner than later. Kathe was able to get an appointment in the near future, so this trip south was very different from last year’s. We basically plotted a straight line from Indiana to Quartzsite, and boogied on down with mostly one night stops and a few two nighters. Not the way we normally enjoy traveling, but possible. That’s why there haven’t been pics taking you along as we explored new places.

So beside saying “Aaaahhhhh,” and following the instructions to “Look straight ahead at the white light,” what else are we doing?

Mostly it has to do with people. We are enriching friendships with people we met last year and those we met 30 years or so ago. And making new friends.

Henk and Mary, renewing friendships from long ago. We’re in Palm Canyon, in Kofa NWR.

Kathe is getting back into quilting, and I’m starting (finally) to do some hobby programming. (I didn’t do ANY programming the first year of retirement, which stunned me.) We’ve gotten our bikes tuned up ready for some riding this winter. Kathe will be taking her first classes at the local Gem and Mineral Club in the next few weeks: silverwork, lapidary, and faceting.

We have also returned to an old favorite hobby: amateur radio. You may know it as ham radio. We are in the process of putting up some antennas that will make it possible for us to make contacts not only locally but also around the country and hopefully, internationally. Kathe made three contacts yesterday — her first in more than ten years!

This year’s site on the desert is a bit of a “neighborhood” — we’re camped next to our friends James and Gloria. We’re farther back from the main road which means far less dust. We’ve edged our large “sites” with rocks and the areas around the antenna poles (we both have one) are landscaped with white quartz rocks. After all, this is Quartzsite; there are plenty available!

Our current ham antenna “farm”: a 40 meter dipole antenna for Kathe, and a 2m / 70cm vertical antenna for Al.
(L to R) Rhett, Scarlet, James’ ham antennas, James and Gloria’s Solitude (our antennas are just out of frame, to the left).

Astronomy and night photography are very well-suited for desert skies. We are keeping better updated on meteor showers, etc. If we can successfully stay up late (always a challenge!) or get up during the night (even MORE of a challenge) to hit a the peak of a shower, we’re sure to be rewarded. It’s dark out here!

We also plan to do some exploring of the southwest this winter. We only did one local trip all of last winter, to Joshua Tree NP. We hope to do many more than that, and already have a trip planned to Death Valley in February.

Thank goodness for airplanes, cell phones, and the Internet. We’ve really felt the distance from family this fall and it’s been difficult at times. Fortunately, we were able to easily return to New England for some much needed family time last month. Before and after that visit, we’ve kept in touch throughout each day; the coverage here on the desert is pretty darned good right now. Distance is never insurmountable when love for family is of utmost importance.

As we look ahead to the holidays, it’s still kind of weird to see decorations available (including snowmen, icicle lights, etc.) at Lowe’s and Walmart alongside huge greenhouses spilling over with flowering shrubs, hanging baskets, and cacti—especially when the temps are in the high 80’s and low 90’s!

We know that the MDI area has been having some pretty spectacular sunsets recently, but this wouldn’t be a “Lobsters” post without one of ours.

OK… Without two of ours!

As always, we hope that this finds you well and enjoying life. Thanks for traveling with us, and keep in touch!

-Al and Kathe: The Lobsters

The Merge…the PURGE!

We’re finally reunited with Scarlett and Rhett! We were gone for exactly eight, very busy weeks, and it is good to be back!

Reunited! That’s the Grand Design service facility in the background.

With the help of friends, and through a combination of sales, gifts, donations to charities, and (many) trips to the town transfer station (no longer called a “dump”), our house on Mount Desert Island is completely empty and on the market. Do you want a house in great shape on the coast of Maine, right outside Acadia National Park??? Hey, you can’t blame me for trying. Both of our cars were sold.

So strange to see the house completely empty!
Echo…echo…echo

A highlight of the “sale” part of cleaning the house was Kathe’s MEGA fiber sale! Imagine 40+ years of “stash,” for spinning, weaving, knitting, and traditional rug hooking.

Yarns galore!
Fabric for all you quilters
Miscellany
Did we mention yarn?

We saw many of our Maine friends, but certainly not all that we would have liked to. To those we weren’t able to see, we’re sorry; we simply ran out of time. On September 19 we started our trip back to Indiana to get back to our truck and rig. Why Indiana, the world capital of RVs?

Well, we didn’t exactly blab about this at the time, although some of you know it by now. Back in late May, we had an accident with the trailer that damaged the left side pretty severely, but didn’t affect the driveability or operation at all. Since we had our Utah extravaganza with grandsons Graham and Dean coming up, we elected to defer repair until after their visit was over. Due to the extent of the damage, we asked the manufacturer, Grand Design RV, if they would put us in their repair queue. They agreed, so rather than leave the rig out west when we returned to Maine to get the house ready for the market as we had planned, we drove it to Indiana.

Repairs made, the trailer is as good as (actually, better than) new! We’re ready for more adventures!

When emptying the house, we were guided by the thought behind this strategy for de-cluttering. You may know it. Make three piles:

  1. Things to keep,
  2. Things to sell or give away, and
  3. Things that should be thrown out.

All piles must be equally sized.

We did that, pretty successfully… But we were pretty aggressive—as if we had taken pile 1, and made three piles.

Some of the items from the small pile 1 we wanted to have with us, despite not having needed them over the past year—for instance, outplacing similar items we had acquired over the year when we noticed they were missing.

Other things in pile 1 were kept because we wanted to be able to save some memories for when we eventually come off the road and set up housekeeping in another “sticks and bricks” house. What to do with those? Fortunately, our son, Mike, agreed to store those at his family’s house. Thank you, Mike! So, rental van loaded, we started back to Indiana via Nashua, NH to see some of our “pre-Maine” friends, and Corning, NY to spend a week with Mike’s family (and drop off some of pile 1).

We’re going through the things we have in the camper, judging whether each has paid its “rent,” i.e., been useful / used enough to warrant the space and weight it has consumed. Books can be donated to the wonderful library in Quartzsite; we have our Kindle readers. Some fabric can be shared with the quilting group. We’re about to dramatically cull through our clothes, too; we’ve got much more than we need. It’s actually quite liberating to find ROOM in the RV as we get rid of things.

So here we are, heading back to Arizona for the winter even though the camper isn’t completely reorganized yet to accommodate the things we have bought with us but we’re making great progress. This brings back memories of our original game of RV Tetris.

Still lots of things which need a “permanent” storage place. Tetris, V2.

So…

Make three piles…

The start of a new “Pile 2,” in our truck’s back seat. Looking for a Goodwill store along our route…

See you again down the road!

-The Lobsters, once more…on the loose!

That’s a wrap – YEAR ONE!

Things are strange right about now. We’ve come off the road and are back on MDI, long enough to put our house on the market. (Anyone want a house on the Maine Coast, right outside Acadia National Park? Anyone?)

We’ve had a great time this past year and are looking forward to more adventures to come! But it is time for a bit of retrospection and possibly introspection.

How to describe the year? We can put some numbers on it:

  • 359 days, door to door
  • 858 hours of driving
  • 27,851 total miles driven (Kathe has well over 25,000 of our miles!)
  • 20,070 miles with the trailer. It is hard to believe that we roamed over 7,000 miles without the trailer. That was all day trips!
  • 2 wonderful grandchildren for 3 weeks
  • 28 National Parks, Wildlife Refuges, Monuments, etc.
  • 30,206 pictures (And you thought we had posted a lot of pics!)

But those don’t really give a flavor of what we have experienced. If you have been following the blog you’ve seen many of the things we’ve seen, but not felt the impact of the openness of the west, nor had the many conversations we’ve had along the way.

The people we have met have been uniformly friendly, helpful, and as willing to share their journey with us as we have with them. Need a tool? Sure! Just put it on the table when you’re done.

Occasionally we’ve run across people who try to get into politics, but it has been very rare. Mostly, conversations have been about travel, enjoying the outdoors, families, rigs, and life experiences.

This country is huge! Having lived our entire lives in the Northeast, we had never known anything but the relatively dense population there. Once across the Mississippi river, you start to be aware that you’re driving for many miles without seeing any structure or other evidence of people.

Our country is beautiful, and varied (witness the 30,206 pictures)! We kept commenting to each other about beautiful scene after beautiful scene as we drove along . We had to be careful not to stop too frequently for photography, or we would have never gotten to our next destination.

When we started, we wondered what it would be like, to be sharing a roughly 300+/- square foot “house” with basically two rooms. We’re happy to report that it hasn’t been a problem at all.

When we started, we said that we’d live full time in our RV for a year before deciding whether to sell our house on Mount Desert Island. The six-month mark came, and we started to make those plans. Now that we’re at the year point and back on the island, we know that it is still the right answer for us.

We’re rattling around in our “large” (compared to the trailer) house, wondering why we ever thought we need so much space—and stuff. As we get ready to sell our house we have to part with things from our past. Most of that seems to not be a problem, but other things, like about 50 years of pictures… well, that is a bit harder. And as most men who have made this transition will tell you… “My tools!” Yeah, I won’t have all my tools! Being brought up with the viewpoint that it was important to have the right tool for whatever it is you’re trying to do, it is really hard to get rid of my tools.

Hard to get rid of in another way is all of our ham radio equipment. There’s just not much of a market for it. While we (especially Kathe) will still be involved in ham radio on the road, it will be done in a different way. Small radios. Small antennas (a bit of an oxymoron, that). There is no room in our 36′ trailer for a ninety foot plus antenna tower, and antennas that measure over 40′ by 20′ on top of the tower. So a lot to get rid of.

We know that we’ll need to come off the road at some point, determined either by health (no news there!) or by a yearning to settle down. But right now, that seems like a long way off. We’ve absolutely loved our past year and are looking forward to continuing for the foreseeable future. We hope that you’ve enjoyed traveling along with us, and that you’ll continue to share our adventure.

We’re still the Lobsters, but, for a while at least, we’re no longer “on the loose.” So we’ll take a break from the blog and pick it up again when we’re back on the road—probably in early October.

See you then!
Al & Kathe

A once in a lifetime experience

Hello! My name is Graham and my brother and I recently flew into Salt Lake City from Rochester via Chicago to start our adventure in Utah. After our flight from Chicago to SLC was delayed two hours, we finally arrived back at the camper with our grandparents.

Waiting for a plane…
We found a plane!
Finally here!

One of the necessities of the camper was that there was room for grandkids to accompany on trips. As the backseat riders in Scarlet, the truck, Dean and I have only been here since Thursday the 27th. We started planning this trip over a year ago, and it is finally happening.

On our first day here we stayed in a KOA in Salt Lake City, only 10 minutes from the airport. We departed the next morning, heading for Price. In Price we discovered that there was more than we had expected there. Price had only been a short stop on the way to Moab. There we found a cool mining museum, where we met a woman who had just come back from our home, Corning! We found a lot of cool artifacts there, and an old caboose and tie-layer.

The next day we went to the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry, where over 15,000 bones have been found. The majority of the bones were found in a 60×40 foot area. 70% of the bones were Allosaurus. We then went to Buckhorn Wash, a really nice drive through a long canyon. We stopped at two pictograph and petroglyph panels along the way. Pictographs are painted, petroglyphs are carved or chipped into the stone. We then went to the Wedge Overlook, fittingly deemed the ‘Mini Grand Canyon’.

Dino quarry!
15000 bones! The green is Allosaurus.
Rawwwr!
Inside the canyon!
Snake!
What do you think this one is?
Sheep?
Cheese!
‘Mini Grand Canyon’

We departed Price and went to Moab, home of two National Parks, Arches and Canyonlands. We headed to Susie’s Branding Iron for lunch, had delicious food, and headed off to our first day at Arches. We stopped about every two minutes to take pictures, which got old towards the end. At the end, as the boys went to investigate the Windows, Grandma went to find parking. She went to the lower loop and discovered an amazing double arch! I went climbing up under the arch and found a gap under a big rock and found a cool thing to crawl through. We went back to the camper and played a fun game, The Mind.

Skillful balancing, mother earth.
Double arch!
Big rock!

The next day, we started off to Dead Horse Point State Park, a park near the top of Canyonlands. The reason it has such an odd name is because the cowboys corralled the horses to the point of the park where they picked the best ones to sell and left the rest trapped at the end. The horses died of thirst, while looking out 2000 feet above the Colorado River. The view there is spectacular and we got some great photos. We also saw a potash evaporation facility and a nice guy told us what it was for. The way to get potash is to drill down to it and put water in the hole, then take the potash water and put it in these large pools to evaporate, leaving only the potash. Potash is mainly used for fertilizer.

Potash pools Photo credit: Graham Simons
Utah Juniper Photo credit: Graham Simons
View from Dead Horse Point Photo credit: Graham Simons
Cool Tree! Photo credit: Graham Simons

We then went for “fro yo” and went to a dinosaur amusement park , where there are giant dinosaurs that I had fun photographing. There was also a series of rooms that had a 3D aquarium. The 8th room was a shark attack, and the floor moved when the shark hit the ‘window’ or screen. We then went to get my FAVORITE food, sushi! We ordered a ‘Boat 2’ not knowing it was served on an actual boat! I also tried Octopus for the first time, and I liked it! We went back to the camper and played some of The Mind.

Watch Out! Photo credit: Graham Simons
Don’t worry, this one is a herbivore. Photo credit: Graham Simons
No one was expecting this!

The next day, we woke up super early and left for Arches, so we could do a hike while it was still relatively cool. We set out with the goal to see Landscape Arch, the widest arch in the world, 305 feet. We also saw two smaller arches, Tunnel and Pinetree. We got to the big arch, and me being me, I wanted to climb up the thin, steep, and possibly dangerous next part of the trail. I made it up pretty quickly, and went back down.

Long way down
The green backpack is me!
Only 11 feet thick at its smallest point.

We came back to Rhett having agreed to do some Ham Radio work. We have been working to get our licenses for a few months. Grandpa and Dean walked down the road a ways while Grandma and I stayed in the camper and Dean and I used their call signs to communicate. It was pretty fun and we learned a lot doing it. We finished off our day by watching Captain Marvel, and Grandma made some delicious bread pudding.

The next day, we left to our first day at Canyonlands’ Island in the Sky district. We drove out to some cool viewpoints went on two short hikes, the first of which was a short and easy hike to Mesa Arch. The second hike was a bit more uphill, but was a nice hike to the first overlook for Upheaval Dome. Our personal opinion is that it was formed by a meteorite strike, while the other possibility of its formation is a salt dome. We hiked back down and returned to the RV to plan for the next few days.

That is a road!
But I thought this park was Canyonlands, not Arches… Photo credit: Dean Simons
Meteorite or salt dome? Photo credit: Dean Simons

Finally, we left the camper at about 9:00 to do some star photography at Panorama Point in Arches. We got some cool photos, and towards the end we got the whole viewpoint to ourselves! The people that were already there were mostly there for sunset. We headed back to the camper at about 11 pm.

Milky Way from Panorama Point

The first week was really fun, and I look forward to seeing the other state and national parks in Utah.

Next stop, Capitol Reef and Goblin State Park!

Big Country, Great friends

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. 🙂

Coeur d’Alene has lots of public art around the downtown area.
Can anyone name this mouse and moose from a children’s book? There are five of these in the area, forming a trail for kids to explore!
Just like on MDI, there are “small” vacation homes on Lake Coeur d’Alene.

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!

Montana lives up to its nickname, “Big Sky Country.”

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 and Tom ready to go. In Montana (and Arizona), vehicles like this can be street legal, so we just rode from Tom’s driveway!

(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.

Onward to the Pacific.
End of the ride, at least for today. We didn’t want to get stuck in the snow!

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.

I can see for miles and miles and miles and …. (The Doors)

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!

Our friends and hosts: Lydia and Tom.

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.

Dry camping — it’s a boon (dock)!

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.

Will Al REALLY make me do this?

“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 mud sludge wetlands logging 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.

Lots and lots of empty 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 peaceful quiet 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.
Desert twilight
  • 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.
Not our site; this one was like this for well over a month. Their gear was never touched!
  • 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 quartz!
  • 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.

It’s Gettin’ Real – and We LOVE it!

Boondocking. It was a new word for me. Just over a year ago.

We had already purchased our RV — let the planning begin!

While we were dreaming about what might be ahead for us as we neared Al’s retirement,  he mentioned (with great excitement) the possibility of boondocking. It sounded like something out of a 60’s sitcom, but I soon learned what it meant.

No hook-ups. What?!?!

So, when you camp with an RV, you can camp in a campground or state park that might have hook-ups, i.e., a spigot that you can attach (with a hose) to your camper, a pedestal with electric power (30 or 50 amps) that you can connect with an electric cord to your camper, and a septic hook-up—you got it! You hook up your sewer hose to the hole in the ground. You get the idea.

In some of the campgrounds we have visited en route to Arizona, we stayed *very* close to our neighbors.  It’s not unusual, if the campground is near a tourism hot spot (a National Park, a popular city), to be lined up very close together.

Another name for boondocking is DRY camping.  It can also be called dispersed camping—as you are outside of a campground. You bring your own water, provide your own electricity (if you choose to), and have to dispose of your own waste—both black (septic) and grey (shower, kitchen sink) tanks. It’s just you and your “campsite.” And lots of room.

We knew we wanted to be in the Southwest for the winter. We’d visited Arizona several times and loved it. Less than a year ago on our last trip to Arizona (before we took delivery on the RV), we drove around to check out some boondocking sites.  I remember my stomach doing a little flip as we drove through some fairly desolate areas. I couldn’t help wondering…will I feel safe? Will I feel isolated and lonely? What if we run out of water? And on and on.

Al assured me it’s something he’s sure I could handle but there was absolutely no pressure. We took delivery of Rhett (our fifth-wheel coach) in April and had lots of fun dreaming about where we’d take him. Occasionally, Al would mention the boondocking “thing” and soon he started investigating solar power for the RV.

For those of you who know Al, you will understand when I say that he researches everything VERY comprehensively. He’s been a regular on the Grand Design Owners’ Forum  online for over a year — and has learned SO much from SO many.  As he learned more about solar and helped me to understand what it would allow us to do, we soon decided to get a recommendation for an installer.

Al already told you all about that install in an earlier post.

So, here we are now. On the desert. So what’s it like? Here are the good points:

It’s dry, dry, dry.  (NO snow!)

There is lots of sunshine, but it never gets too hot. We’ve been averaging in the mid-to-high 60’s and sitting out in the sun is a pleasure. The nights are cool and we sleep with a bedroom window open. Love it.

We have been able to run everything from our eight solar panels, and haven’t run the generators yet. It’s going to be quite overcast for the next couple of days (it’s actually raining right now) so we may end up turning on the generators to keep our batteries topped off.

We have plenty of water and if we need to refill, we either drive the RV just 2/10 of a mile to fill up OR Al puts the large water bladder into the truck bed and takes it to fill.

We have a good deal of space to ourselves;  Here, we’ve got several acres of desert to ourselves. It’s nice! And, as you can see, Al can fly the drone here—he’s quite happy about that.

The sunrises and sunsets have been absolutely glorious! (If you follow me on FB, you’ve probably seen my photos — it’s so hard not to share them!)

    A magnificent sunrise—I took this pic from bed!

Sunset on the desert.

There is lots of space to ride our bikes (although some of it is a bit, um…challenging! More about that below).

The surrounding scenery is magnificent. There is so much to explore—a number of huge wildlife refuges included—yeah!

I’m sewing again—and I seem to have my cooking mojo back, too.

Sewing again!

Black bean enchiladas with Hatch chiles. Yum!

And the not-so-good stuff:

Wi-fi has been spotty at best when camping. Luckily, my Messenger and Words with Friends games don’t use much data so I’ve been able to keep up with folks. I’ve even been able to still participate in my Maine church’s Bible Study via Facebook video. And email works, too, but on its own schedule.  But forget it if you want to use the Internet—downloading or even just following a link is impossible 90% of the time. (I know—first world problem!). We’re in the public library right now because they are hard-wired for the Internet—it’s like buttah! (And this is a pretty amazing library for such a small town—we need to find out about library cards for snowbirds.)

DUST…DUST…and you guessed it, MORE DUST! I know—we choose the desert.

Biking off-road on the desert can be a bit tricky.  I took another spill off my bike this week. When you’re trying to cross the desert (think: bushwacking), you never know when you’re going to hit a patch of deep sand or rocks, and those desert washes can be a challenge!

Off we go! Pretty innocuous.  We’re actually on a four-wheeler track here. It’s all fun and games until you decide to  cross the wash (it’s where the water collects when there’s rain—and therefore, it’s quite thick with bushes and undergrowth—and steep gulleys). Like this…

I’ve been kinda lonely.   Don’t get me wrong; Al is great company! But I am missing my family and friends and this week, the desert grey-brown got to me.  It didn’t feel like Advent at all. And being together 24/7…well, we all need some independent time occasionally. So Al encouraged me to take the truck and go off for the day. It was *just* what I needed! I drove 80 miles south to Yuma (just shy of the Mexican border) and it was wonderful. Flowers, large trees, lush green fields of all kinds of crops, beautiful mountains, and a huge shopping area that went on forever. It was great to see lots of Christmas decorations and it really put me more in the mood.  And it was simply nice to be around lots of people. It’s a balance.

So, it’s official. We are BOONDOCKERS. And SNOWBIRDS. We’re learning how to live on the desert — and for the most part, it’s awesome!

Fire, Friends, and Dolphins

Another rally – yay! This time we were at the Massey’s Landing RV Resort in Millsboro, Delaware.  Set on the Rehoboth Bay, this gem of a campground was a perfect spot for the Grand Design Northeast Owner’s Rally (can you say white sand, lagoons, pool bar, and ice cream sundaes?).  There were approximately 200 rigs and about 500 attendees; we broke a record for an owner’s rally (a rally not sponsored by the manufacturer, but organized by a community of owners).

A record-breaking owner’s rally

Once again, a number of workshops were offered. We didn’t attend too many this time since they were ones we’d already attended at the Hershey RV Show last fall or at the recent Indiana rally. However, there was a really important session on RV fire safety which was sobering.  A husband/wife team both of whom are firefighters shared the story of a recent RV trip they took. Upon arrival at their campsite, they discovered a drawer in their kitchen that was completely charred as were the two drawers above it! This was the results of loose batteries in the drawer that had sparked a fire while they were bouncing around while underway—yikes! You can bet that every one of us went right back to our RV to tape the ends of every battery that wasn’t in its original package — I know I did!

The best part of this rally was the new friends we made! THIS is the best part of traveling the country — meeting wonderful, interesting people who share a sense of wanderlust. We spent plenty of time sitting around the campfire or picnic table sharing ideas about modifications we’ve made to our RV,  making suggestions about where to camp, and just getting to know each other. Here are some of the folks we met …

Patti and Steve

Patti and Steve have recently ordered a new Grand Design RV (their second!) and were trying to decide on what brand of truck to purchase; this is a common quandary. And RV owners are often eager to shareopinionated, pushy, overbearing, obnoxious, enthusiastic about which brand of truck to purchase. Patti had lots of questions and took lots of notes. She was looking for as many ideas, suggestions, and tips as she could. It was great fun to show her a few of the modifications we’ve already made.  Steve has a wicked sense of humor and we had a great time visiting and laughing with them both!

Paula and Chuck

Here are Paula and Chuck. We got to know them when we went on an evening cruise up the Broadkill River. We really *clicked* and enjoyed our time together throughout the weekend. It turns out that Paula had actually discovered us on the Grand Design Owner’s Forum online—Al’s been very active on the forum for a year and  lists our address as Bass Harbor, ME. She was searching for us at the rally because they’ve vacationed in Maine, in fact in BAR HARBOR for many, many years. We had fun comparing notes (and we couldn’t help but mention that we may have a home for sale there next year!).

We went out for breakfast together and on our last evening at the rally, Paula and Chuck invited us over to their RV to watch a beautiful slide show of their walk on the Camino. They encouraged us to think about it.  Paula and I have so much in common (separated at birth?) and have already texted each other a couple dozen times since we left Delaware. Such fun to make new friends!

Cruisin’

As we travel to new places, we try to take advantage of as many new activities as we can—who knows if we’ll ever be back this way?  There were several offerings at the rally (shopping trip, casino visit, and boat trips) and we signed up for two evening cruises — the first was on the Broadkill River and the second was on the Delaware Bay.

A flock of ibis overhead

We were thoroughly entertained by some dancing dolphins!

Breakwater birds serenade us

Sunset at Delaware Breakwater East End Light

Making new friends as we travel — it’s like finding a lighthouse out on the bay. It’s a beacon that reassures us that we’re on the right course. Full speed ahead!

OOPS!

They say things happen in threes.  Or fours.  Fives?

We’ve had very smooth sailing until now.  This stop has made up for that, but we’re still laughing and smiling.

We stayed at Pine Grove Furnace State Park in Pennsylvania.  The campground is about 50 years old according to the campground host.  Back then the trailers were not as big as they are now, and some of the corners are very tight.

“They want us to fit into THAT space?”

The road to our site was very narrow, making maneuvering difficult. The site was very short. But with a fair amount of backing and forwarding we were able to get the trailer into position and the truck off the road.

“Ummm, Honey?  I can’t find the water spigot.”

Look at the reservation slip… oops!  This is an electric-only site.  Good thing we have large tanks for “ins” and “outs.”  But we don’t travel with the fresh water tank full because of the weight it would add, so… Ask another camper where the water access is.  Hitch the trailer back up to the truck, and drive to the water.  Fill up.  Now get into our spot again. (Did a better job positioning the trailer this time!)

Since we plan to “boondock” (camp with no hookups at all) for a good portion of the winter, we look at this “opportunity” to use only the water we’re carrying as good practice.

Still smiling.

We start to open the slides that turn our narrow trailer into a much more spacious (400 sq. ft.) living area.

“SCREECH!!!”

What the…?  Haven’t heard THAT before.

A small rug that we use at the sink hadn’t been put away, and is now under the slide, between a roller and success.  It is about 18 inches inside a ½” slot.  Our fingers aren’t that small, nor long.  Cannibalize the metal handle of a fly swatter to form a dual-hooked gadget with which to snag the rug and pull it out.

We spent three days and 4 nights here visiting the Gettysburg National Military Park.  We’ll write that up in a post soon.

Time to leave, and it rained overnight. We squeegee the rain off the slides, so it doesn’t end up inside the trailer.  Wait.  Why is that slide topper (like an awning over the slide, to keep leaves, etc. off the top of the slide) about 10 inches too far back?  Why is that end cap missing?  Why is that other end cap broken?

We have the first damage to the trailer.  Did we mention that the campground was too small for our rig?  We apparently clipped a tree at some point without feeling it. Two inches closer and we would have met the tree with the body of the trailer resulting in much worse damage.  So… disappointed that we have damage to fix, but we’re glad it wasn’t worse.

Finally (we hope!) as we return to the truck from a rest stop we notice…

The tailgate is DOWN!  Oh shoot!

We lost a few small items from the bed.  Apparently one of us had accidentally pressed the tailgate release on our fob at some point.

Phew!

We’re ready for a few problem-free weeks of travel now.  We deserve it!

We’ve Rallied!

For the past several months we’ve been saying, “We’re going to a Rally!” Many people who have heard that have returned blank stares, as if to say, “What’s that?”  Or, “So what?”

Truth be told, we didn’t really know ourselves.  All we knew is that lots of people with Grand Design RVs would be getting together at the Elkhart County 4-H Fairgrounds in Goshen Indiana.  It ran from Tuesday morning through Friday dinner, so now we have some answers.

Top 10 things about an (this) RV Rally

10. This fairgrounds has a really big power capacity.  There were approximately 375 RVs at the rally, and all of them had either 30 or “50” (really 100) ampere power connections.  Even if all of them had 30 amp feeds, that still requires 11,250 amps (@ 120V).  Glad we don’t have to pay that power bill (OK, we did–through our nightly camping fee).

9. RV owners are very friendly.  We hadn’t even set up our rig before we were invited over to a neighbor’s to sit, have adult refreshments, and just chat.   It is fun to meet face to face people with whom you have been corresponding on the Internet for months!

8. You don’t come to a rally to be alone, or have large “campsites”. A rally is all about community, and the rigs are packed in tightly.  Even so, there had to be three separate areas in which the rigs were parked.

One of three sections of RV sites.

7. It is possible to feed 800+ people at a pot luck dinner in 18 minutes! They set out 12 serving tables, and assigned every unit (RV, usually a couple) an item: main, starch, salad, dessert, etc., and a table to put it on. Then  the roughly 100 tables at which we ate were each assigned a serving table. It worked wonderfully. For the first helpings you had to use the assigned serving table.  For seconds (thirds, anyone?) you could go to any table–so many of us grazed and sampled a huge variety of foods.

Sorry, no pics of the potluck.  We were too busy eating!

6. There is lots to do! There were seminars going all day, some purely educational, some educational about the advantages of a product (i.e., ads). But even the ads were helpful to people who are new to the hobby / lifestyle as we are. One that Al found especially useful was on general maintenance, given by an independent mobile service tech, and another one on holding tank maintenance (that stinky “black” tank, especially!), given by a person whose job is, yep, cleaning out people’s black tanks when they’ve not maintained them properly.

5. There is lots to do! Every day offered things off-site. Each day you could take a tour of the Grand Design factory, or you could take an excursion, such as a trip to a museum or shopping in a nearby town.  Kathe will tell you about her Amish brown-bag tour in an upcoming post.

Each evening there were several campfires around the site.  One night was storytelling, another night was s’mores.

S’mores around the campfire

Two young (5-ish?) girls had a great time going around to the crowd and asking if they could cook a marshmallow for them.  They’d even burn it on request!

4. There are a million ways to make your RV your own.  The only limit is your imagination!  It was fun to be able to go through other peoples’ rigs and see how they have modified them. Some were minor touches–others were major reworkings of the interior or the inner “workings,” e.g., the plumbing.

3. There is a wealth of knowledge in the community.  The air was filled with conversations about things to watch out for, ways to do things more simply, what is good to add, which tools do you really, really want to have with you (and which you can leave home–oops! too late!).

2. The service was phenomenal! To understand this, you need to know two things.  1. Driving an RV down the road has been likened to a Richter 6.0 earthquake.  Things are always breaking. 2. RV “manufacturers” are  to a large extent parts assemblers. They get a chassis from one company, axles and brakes from another, the refrigerator from another, water heater, furnace, microwave, etc., etc.

This rally was sponsored by our manufacturer, Grand Design, and not only did they have their service techs on site, but they also  arranged for all the other companies who supply major parts to have their techs on site as well! All this service was gratis; we have no idea of the total value of all the service performed in these four days, but those service teams were busy from 7:00 AM to well into the evening every day. Thank you Grand Design and partners! We had our refrigerator serviced (it was not closing properly), and see another bit of service we got, below the list!)

1. The people who organized this rally put in an INCREDIBLE amount of work. The planning for the rally started about a year ago, and their work allowed a large rally to come off seemingly without a hitch.  I’m sure that there was lots of work behind the scenes during the rally to make it seem that way. Pam and Red Beers were the main organizers (“wagonmasters”), and they were assisted by about 50 other volunteers. THANK YOU!

We got our hitch!

Small things can make us very happy.  Up until now, we had been keeping our bikes in the bed of the truck in a moving blanket, with the front wheels in the back seat of the truck.  Any time we wanted to take a ride (which we’re trying to do each day), we’d have to unwrap the frames and put the wheels back on.  Not difficult, just a bit time consuming and a hassle. Here at the rally, we had a hitch welded on by the chassis manufacturer. (No, this part was not free!) So now, we have our bikes on the back of the trailer–easy to use and no longer taking up space in the truck.

Our new hitch, with bike rack and bikes!

Why we’re traveling

As we said in an earlier post, one of the main reasons we’ve taken to the road is to see areas of the US and Canada other than New England.  We’re already seeing differences, at least different from the parts of NE in which we have lived.

We are in Amish country. One of the things we’ve noticed is that all the stores, restaurants, and public buildings have places to hitch up horses and buggies, in, or adjacent to, the parking lots.  Here’s a Walmart parking lot!

Shelter for horses in the Walmart parking lot.

Another difference we’ve noticed is the cloud formations are different from what we (usually) get in Maine. The cloud structures are quite dramatic, but don’t (or haven’t while we’ve been here) block out the sun for more than a few minutes! Some days we could have used the shade; we had several days that were quite hot. The afternoon clouds have been like this every day we’ve been here.  Quite different from our coastal Maine low cloud decks.

Indiana clouds

Miscellany

Having worked at Jackson Laboratory, I couldn’t pass up this piece of garden humor at the Fairgrounds!

Jean-etically modified plants

A certain co-worker of mine who shall remain nameless (I’m talking to YOU, Dave!) teased me for quite a while when he learned that we bought a Ford F350 “dually” to pull our rig with.  “You don’t need a dually to pull an RV!”  But at the rally we learned that we weren’t even trying when it came to tow vehicles.  Now HERE is a real tow vehicle!

A Volvo with sleeper as an RV tow vehicle!

There were THREE of these at the rally!

On to the next rally!

After wending our way through Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Washington, D.C., and Virginia, we’ll be attending another rally in Delaware.  It will be interesting to see how this one differs; it is entirely owner-based, without the sponsorship of Grand Design.

We have one more rally scheduled, but not until January. We’ll attend a rally in Quartzsite, AZ, near where we will be spending the winter.