Friday, February 29, 2008

Another "Hook Day"

Friday, February 29, 2008 -- Los Banos, CA

We got out of Pomona and the LA Megaplex without much trouble this morning. It's amazing, but all those motorhomes seemed to evaporate as the morning wore on without lines or hassle or raised tempers. I don't get it... you'd think an orderly planned departure would be more efficient and faster than leaving it to randomness and independence and chance. But it seemed like the exact opposite happened. On the way into the fairgrounds last Saturday and Sunday, there was order... go in this gate, turn left, follow the yellow line to row I-4, and follow directions from the parking team -- and it took two days to get everyone parked. But on the way out today we could leave whenever we wanted, we could go out of any gate we wanted, could turn onto any road in any direction and I didn't see anyone directing traffic. Things went faster and smoother without planned order. Could this be a concept to apply to my, or anyone's, life? Don't plan things... just let 'em happen... and it'll all work out better? At any rate we were out of the fairplex and on our way north by a little after 10am.

Here, in California, we refer to major roads differently than you do in the rest of the country. In Wisconsin, or Missouri, or just about anywhere else in the USA, Interstate Highways are referred to in the same manner as they've been named by the government -- I-90, for example, is used this way in both written and verbal communication: "I took I-90 to Milwaukee". Seems simple, doesn't it. But that's not the way it's done by those of us in California. No sir! Here, in the Golden State, we say things like this: "Like, I took the ten and like hooked up with the two ten..." Allow me to translate for you: "the ten" means I-10; "the two ten" refers to I-210. I know you rubes in the rest of the country are wrinkling your brow and wondering why someone would talk that way. Hey, this is California. Just wait a few years and you'll be talking just like us.

So, that's how we got out'a town... we took the ten to the two ten which eventually hooks up with the five. After some hours and about 300 miles we landed tonight at a Walmart parking lot in Los Banos, CA. We had a number of things to celebrate tonight... "hook day", the day we change major direction and stopped heading primarily west and started heading mostly north. We made the official hook near Pasadena. The second big thing we celebrated is our first night in a Walmart parking lot. Some of you may know that Walmart is a prized place to park for free when just passing through. When all you need is a place to park and sleep, why pay RV Park fees for tennis courts, swimming pools, club houses and full-hookups when all I want is a place to park and sleep. So Walmart has developed quite a reputation among RVers as a place to rest overnight for no-charge. In the same way a guy couldn't be considered a real man-about-town until he spent the night with Betty Lou, we couldn't be considered true fulltimers until we've stayed overnight at Walmart.

On another note: California has some of the worst major roads in the country, at least the part of the country we've experienced so far. We drove 300 miles today and it feels like we drove twice that. These roads are rough, caving in, collapsing, falling apart, and laced with pot holes. We heard at a truckstop today that just last week a fully loaded 18 wheeler drove into one of the larger pot holes and hasn't been seen since. Well, you say, they should start rebuilding those roads so the happy motoring public will continue to buy that $4 per gallon gas and the economy will continue to percolate along. But there's a problem with that... the state of California is broke, it has no money. Not only don't they have any money, they've borrowed against their kids future taxes and their grandkids future taxes. They've probably borrowed against MY future taxes and I don't even know that they're planning to tax me. They're technically bankrupt. I don't know how it'll be possible to ever find the money to rebuild all the roads in that huge state. My advice if you value your good front-end alignment... stay away.

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On a much sadder note we heard today about the death of Dave Baleria, a fulltimer and an instructor, with his wife Sandy, of a number of seminars at the Life on Wheels conferences we've attended in the past. We talked with Dave and Sandy only a couple weeks ago in Casa Grande, AZ during the Gypsy Gathering Rally, where they did a few seminars on personal safety and the RV lifestyle. I don't know for sure, but Dave was probably about our age, perhaps a bit younger. The news shocked and saddened us, as it did thousands of others who knew him. Here's a link to a blog post from Nick Russell, the editor of the Gypsy Journal Newspaper. Go to the post for February 29th. It's shocking things like this that help us see the value of life and the spirit of enjoying life each and every day.

T

Thursday, February 28, 2008

He's An Old Hippie...

Thursday, February 28, 2008 -- Pomona, CA Fairplex
The FMCA International Convention

hippie

FMCA is a large organization with enough people attending these rallies so they can sign some fairly big name entertainment. Last night we saw Peter Noone and the current version of Herman's Hermits. Tonight we were treated to The Bellamy Brothers. The shows are held at the grandstand of the horse racing track here at the Fairplex.

The Peter Noone show last night surprised me. I had low expectations but he put on a heck of a show. The music was good but his rapport with the audience and his self-deprecating humor and gags made it a fun time.

I had higher expectations from the Bellamy Brothers tonight and they came through with more than an hour of some of their biggest hits. The first song of the night was my theme song, "Old Hippie", and I was hooked. The cooler than normal evening did drive some not-so-hearty individuals back home early, but most of us stuck it out till the end.

Tonight's our last night in Pomona -- at least for this trip. Both Dar and I found the rally productive and worthwhile. We feel, in some way, more a part of this collective bunch of people who choose to lead this less-than-normal lifestyle. Through some seminars and talking with manufacturers and their service people I have a much better understanding of the care and feeding of the many systems these complicated campers have -- the stuff that keeps us warm, dry, nourished, and moving.

Tomorrow we're hoping to sleep in and let the morning unfold naturally. Because most RVers have a gene that creates a need to be first -- the first to arrive at an event, the first to leave the event, the first to the restaurant for dinner, the first to bed at night, etc, because of all this I'm sure the gates will be plugged with campers trying to leave the fairplex grounds by 6am tomorrow morning. I'm predicting that by 9am, most everyone will have left and we'll have clear sailing. And without all the hassle.

After we leave the fairgrounds we're going to be on a beeline out of the LA Megaplex on I-5 northbound. It can't be too soon for me.

Till tomorrow...

T

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Rally News

Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2008 -- Pomona, CA
At the FMCA Rally

This morning started early as Dar headed off to an exercise class she though she'd try and I headed off to the association's free coffee and donut seminar. I've always heard that life is a balance, so I think I have a responsibility to take on whatever weight she looses.

The weather in Pomona has been spectacular -- even by Southern California standards. I talked with a native Californian today who said she's never seen the nearby San Gabriel Mountains so green. They're normally dry and brown and ready to catch on fire. A little rain, added at the right time, can turn a desert, or a dry hillside, into a garden of new life and color. The added treat is that they're snow-capped right now and there's been no smog. Seeing the mountains near LA at all is a cause for celebration, but seeing them green and in full bloom is almost reason to turn the kids out of school and dance in the streets. And we were there.

I attended a few seminars today and then Dar and I walked the indoor vendor show floor. There are almost 500 vendors hawking their wares at this show -- from the big ones like Cummins and Caterpillar to the smallest like the woman who came up with a solution to bedspreads falling off the bed and onto the floor overnight. I'm convinced RVer's are a lot like golfers -- we think the next gadget or piece of equipment we buy is going to solve all our problems. Given the right conditions, either RVer's or golfers will buy anything.

There's a concert scheduled, starting tonight, for the next three nights. Tonight's entertainment was two groups -- one a band that does disco-era hits, the other a band that copies Abba, the famous group from the 70's. It was enjoyable, but quite a few people got up and left before the end of the concert. It clearly wasn't their kind of music. They probably would have enjoyed a good country/western group or, perhaps, a 50's era big band. I'm sure the association is trying to attract new members, but they should keep the likes of their core members in mind too.

Tomorrow, Wednesday, we've got a full schedule of seminars we want to attend. Dar's day will begin again with exercise and mine, like today, will start with coffee and donuts.

Adieu, until tomorrow...

T

Monday, February 25, 2008

Rally Kick-off

Monday, Feb. 25, 2008 -- Pomona CA Fairplex

I heard today that there were about 2500 motorhomes that had pre-registered for this convention. There were some no-shows so the best guess at this point is that something like 2200 showed up. Maybe we'll get an update later in the week.

This convention used to attract 4000 to 5000 units, but, according to some vendors I talked to today, FMCA is here in Pomona every year and it's just getting old for those close-by folks who are the core of the attendees. It's like going to the county fair every year -- after a while you've had enough corn dogs and want pizza or gyros, or drive down to Madison for a night on the town. I'm sure fuel prices and the weakening economy are having an effect as well. So, it'll be interesting to see what happens with this convention in future years.

How about this? The motorhome manufacturers that are displaying their latest and greatest models here at the show brought in a total of 850 units -- yes, that's right -- 850 motorhomes for the convention attendees to peruse and take for a test drive. That's one new unit on display for every three units brought in by attendees. You know that's not going to continue much longer.

Oh, and the highlight of the day was the Segway -- that two wheeled transportation thing that you ride standing up. Both Dar and I took an opportunity to take a test drive. It was as easy as it looks but takes a couple minutes of familiarization. It's a matter of just thinking about where you want to go and it'll take you. I know what you're thinking... "but Thom, I need the walk -- I need the exercise". And you're right. If this thing ever catches on in a big way general health conditions will decline even further.

I'm told the "in" people here in LA ride their Segways to the gym. It's LA -- what can I say?

T

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Fruit, Windmills, and Campers

Sunday, February 24, 2008 -- Pomona, CA
For the FMCA International Convention

Yesterday, Saturday, we got a good early start and were heading west out of Quartzsite on I-10 a little before 9am Mountain Time. Just a few miles down the road, where the Colorado River forms the border of Arizona and California, we drove into the Pacific Time Zone and it was suddenly only 8am. You gotta' love driving west.

I think we were both a little sad to be leaving the solitude and openness of the desert. Much of our time since leaving Rockport TX in January has been in sparsely populated and very open western desert areas. There's an attraction to all that wide-open space that I really grew to like. The contrast will be dramatic as we wheel into the Los Angeles Metroplex. We'd been hanging around in some of the least populated areas of this great country -- where the population density is 2 or 3 people per square mile. The Greater Los Angeles area has a population density of almost 8,000 per square mile. This is going to take some adjustment.

Readers will know from a previous posting that for the past few days we've been cleaning out the fridge -- making sure all the apples, oranges, and other produce is eaten prior to our passage into California, where they don't take kindly to foreign fruit. They have these checkpoints as you enter that land where everyone has to stop and be grilled about your cooler, your crisper drawer, your eating habits, and your political leanings. Once, on a trip from Oregon to California, we didn't know about this procedure and had to surrender a big bag of just-bought Granny Smith Apples. The kids were scarred from that experience and we didn't want to cause any commotion this time. So the fridge was clean of all illegal substances, or so I thought. Less than a mile before the inspection station, as Dar's slowing down, she tells me that we do still have one lemon and an aging lime. "WHAT? Now you remember this? Well, one of us is going to prison and it's not going to be ME!"

It was too late. We were committed now. I was tempted to have Dar hit the gas and blow on through the road block, but better judgment prevailed. I could see the headline in the paper: "Middle Aged Man Runs From Border Patrol -- Will Do Time for Having a Lime".

The officer in our inspection lane, a stern looking woman with a large revolver and a few hand grenades hanging off her ammunition belt, waited impatiently as Dar slowly maneuvered the bus into the narrow inspection lane. Then, the first question from the officer's mouth: "Where are you coming from?" Dar looked at me, I looked at Dar. I shrugged and thought "Is this a test of some kind?" Remember, we're westbound on I-10 less than a mile from Arizona. After an uncomfortably long pause Dar replied, without missing a beat, "Arizona?"

The officer looked away and said, "Thank you, have a nice trip."

What? That's it? That's the only question? I couldn't believe it. I guess we passed the test. It took a few more miles before either of us could relax again.

There are a number of mountain ranges that ring the LA area. Coming in from the east on I-10, after passing Palm Springs, you cut through a gap in the mountains that leads to the LA basin where all the people live. In that gap are more wind powered electric generators than I have seen in all my 57 years. There are thousands of them and I don't think I'm exaggerating. There's no way to know for sure since it's got to be impossible to count them all. I wonder if the people who own them know how many they have. They literally cover the valley floor and the sides of the hills -- in some areas as far as I could see. It was the unexpected highlight of the drive.

Getting closer to LA the road widens from 4 lanes to 6. A little further and it becomes 8 and then 10 lanes. It takes a little time, even for a boy who handled Chicago traffic for many years, to get used to how they drive around here. First, it's not necessary to use turn signals. In fact, almost no one ever does. I did for a while but stopped when I noticed people pointing and laughing -- "check out that rube from Montana -- his tail-lights are blinking on one side".

Next, there are a lot of people who play some kind of driving game -- where two or more cars race one another other at very high speed, weaving in and out of lanes, past and around other slower moving traffic, apparently trying to get someplace before the other person. I couldn't get the bus to go fast enough to join in.

Finally, out here stop signs must only be advisory... a suggestion. I haven't seen anyone actually stop at one since we've been here. It'll take a little time for my driving habits to adjust to all these new things.

A little after noon, we pulled into the Fairplex in Pomona. Motorhomes were lined up everywhere, more campers than I've ever seen at one time. Everything proceeded smoothly and before long we had our parking spot for the week. The convention doesn't really get underway until Monday afternoon so we had some time to settle in.

Here's something I'm looking forward to: It's taking them two full days, Saturday and Sunday, to get all these motorhomes parked for the convention. On Friday, they want us all gone by noon. I think I'll put my lawn chair on the roof, get a big cup of coffee, and watch the entertainment.

The next few days will be very interesting.

T

Friday, February 22, 2008

A Rainy Chore Day

Friday, February 22, 2008 -- Quartzsite, AZ.
Camping FREE in the Scaddan Wash short term area.

It was still dark when I awoke to the sound of rain falling on the roof. That soothing sound coupled with the early morning chill inside the camper is a sure-fire combination that'll keep me in bed until Dar has the furnace running and the coffee made. We have nothing scheduled today, other than preparing to hit the road tomorrow, Saturday, morning.

In Pomona, CA., at the Family Motor Coach Association Rally, we'll be dry-camping again (no hookups), so Dar's going to run over to a laundromat in Quartzsite and wash up a few duds. I'm planning to get caught up on a few administrative tasks and work on a writing project.

We've really enjoyed our time here in Quartzsite. It's hard to beat the weather during the winter. The only negatives I can come up with are two: first, we're separated so far from other campers that it's necessary to make a real effort to wander over and say hello. I hadn't really thought about it before this, but that's probably one of the reasons RVers seem so friendly -- they're often so close to one another being friendly is a survival strategy. Still, both Dar and I enjoyed the solitude these past few days and we make the effort to meet others when we feel the need.

The second negative is the no hook-up thing -- and this really isn't a negative so much as a different way of thinking. We've drycamped before, but at the homes of friends and family. We could use their facilities and could run a hose to top off our freshwater tank if we needed to. In some cases, we ran an extension cord and had enough electric power to keep the batteries charged. But here, we're completely un-hooked. If we need water, it's a trip into town.

We've run into a bunch of people who thrive on being un-hooked and have bought equipment and developed strategies to prolong their endurance. They have solar panels so the sun will keep their batteries charged. They may have a wind generator for the same purpose. They can get by on as little as 3 or 4 gallons of water per person per day. They may have an LP powered catalytic heater to keep the camper warm at a lower cost. It's a lifestyle. We're not quite there yet, but I have been coveting a couple big solar panels for the roof.

Speaking of no hookups, I met a fellow at the rally in Casa Grande who built a set of fake hookups. It's a painted hunk of plywood that he lays on the ground next to his rig when drycamping. It has a 4" PVC sewer connection attached, along with a PVC water pipe and valve, and an electrical box sticking up out of it. He then runs his hoses and power cord over and "hooks-up". Of course, none of it actually works, but it sure prompts more than a few looks and questions. It's a great ice breaker with neighbors and creates good laughs as people wonder if there are any more hookups nearby. These RVers can be a nutty bunch, but it's my kind of humor.

My next post will probably be made from the Foreign Land of California, if they don't confiscate my air card and computers along with the apples and oranges at the border.

T

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Palm Trees and a Full Lunar Eclipse

Wednesday, February 20,2008 -- Quartzsite, AZ.
Camping Free on BLM Land

A few more clouds than usual this morning and a little unsettled weather is expected later today. As the morning wore on the skies cleared some but remained a tad hazy most of the day. We decided to drive about 25 miles south of Quartzsite to investigate reported sightings of palm trees in this otherwise placid desert. You see, palm trees are not common in Arizona, except the ones dragged in from the Foreign Land of California and planted in those walled and gated areas around golf courses. If some real native palms exist, it's really quite a find.

The scene of the sightings was Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, a more than 650,000 acre preserve established in 1939 mostly for the protection of Desert Bighorn Sheep.

It's not easy to reach the location of the reported sightings -- a place called Palm Canyon. The drive south from Quartzsite on Arizona Highway 95 is easy enough, but after turning onto the road into the refuge things take a turn for the worse. The gravel/dirt road apparently sees little if any maintenance. Its surface is a severe washboard, a rough wavy surface you've probably experienced in spots along other un-paved roads. But here the washboard surface extends the entire 7 or 8 miles to our destination. The old Blazer with the bikes on top was chattering and complaining the entire way. At least there were a few wash-outs along the way to make Dar scream and keep my life interesting. At 5 to 10 miles per hour, we stuttered along for a good 45 minutes or so before reaching a small parking lot at the mouth of a canyon surrounded by the Castle Dome mountains which peak about 4,000 feet above us. I'm sure any palm trees found are going to be worth all this abuse.

We were told that during WWII, Gen. George Patton used this area for desert warfare training exercises -- and to not pick up any unexploded ordinance that we happen to find. That, together with the warnings about keeping an eye out for rattlesnakes, kept my mind from wandering during our subsequent hike into the canyon to find those darn palm trees. How would I prefer to die... mortar shells, snakes, or falling off the side of a mountain?... hmmm.

After a half hour hike into the canyon I spotted a sign with an arrow pointing up and to the left that simply read "Palm Trees". By golly, there they were! It's a sliver of a canyon that rises sharply up and toward the north... not very big... that contains less than 100 California Fan Palms. (I'll put a picture of them in an online photo album.) These are the only native palm trees in Arizona and thought to be descendants of palms that flourished during the last North American Ice Age (not counting the one this year). They can only exist in this narrow canyon where the intense heat from direct sunlight only touches them a few hours each day. The water in the canyon and the coolness from the mountain mass and the elevation allows them to survive. They are true survivors.

Once I stopped vibrating from the drive in, I really enjoyed the hike and the time we spent with the palms, the snakes and the old hand grenades.

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In my last post I ranted a little about people who prefer commercial TV over the show that performs nightly in the skies over Quartzsite. I hadn't realized that the very next night, Wednesday night, we'd be treated to the last full lunar eclipse until 2010. As we were having dinner, the moon was rising from the mountains in the east -- right there through our big picture-window/windshield. If it were just a full-moon rising, it'd be exciting enough for me. But a full-moon together with a full lunar eclipse was just spectacular. Through the binoculars the moon in full eclipse appears more ball-like and somehow more real than normal. Maybe it's just different. In any case, it was another great episode of Dancing with the Stars.

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What's going on with fuel prices? Less than a week ago I topped off the diesel tank at $3.35 per gallon. Today it's at least a dime more.

T

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Quartzsite Entertainment

Tuesday, February 19, 2008 -- Quartzsite, AZ
Camping Free on BLM Land

It's time for a confession: I'm developing a severe case of the "lazys". Being here in Quartzsite, there's not exactly a lot to do. Sure, we sleep, deep luxurious sleep, until an hour after the sun rises and begins to naturally warm the camper. We savor hot coffee for longer than we should. We take long walks around BLM Land. We run into town to compare laundromats, truck stops, and dump stations. We had breakfast this morning at Sweet Darlene's, a local restaurant, arriving about 10:30am, but still in time for a big ol' Denver omelet from the breakfast menu. I, for one, am almost feeling guilty for being so unproductive, so lazy. Give me a little more time and I'm sure I'll get over it.

Today, we drove north to Parker, a small town of about 3,000 people on the Colorado River, which forms the border of Arizona and the foreign land of California. Parker has a casino and access to the river below Parker Dam, making gambling and water sports key elements in it's bid to attract California tourist dollars. Besides that, there's not much in Parker -- which may be why you've never heard of it before. During our hour-long visit, we shot a few pictures and I dipped my toe in the Colorado just to be able to say so -- the highlight of the afternoon. Then we drove home.

The camping may be cheap here, but there's a price to pay.

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Television. If you've read some of my earlier blog posts, you may be aware that neither Dar nor I are big fans of television -- or as I like to call it: Mind Control American Style. To this day I still can't explain ordering our camper with a big satellite TV dome on it -- and we still haven't been able to justify the expense of signing up with one of the satellite TV providers. So the dome just sits up there without anything to do with the possible exception of being an early warning system for low clearance bridges. "When you hear the TV dome scraping on the bottom of the bridge, it's time to slow down and check what's going on".

Tonight, Dar and I are nestled around our campfire, talking over the day watching the nightly light show in the sky. With the nearly full moon, shooting stars, satellites flying by, constellations preparing to battle one another, and the cool quiet air flowing over you -- I've got to wonder what's so darn interesting on TV that keeps most of our neighbors glued to their dull glowing generator-driven TV screens every night. We're in the desert -- what was the frontier not too many years ago -- where the lack of light provides a view of the night sky just not available in most of the USA. The natural sky show is spectacular. We and our neighbors are both watching Dancing with the Stars... but there are no commercial ads on our version.

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I see Obama is projected to win our home state of Wisconsin, the ninth straight win he's bagged over Clinton. I don't know if or for whom I'll vote in November, but I do know I'm done with any and all Bushes or Clintons. We've had 20 years of these two aristocratic political families and it's time for a significant change.

T

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Quartzsite and BLM Lands

Sunday, February 17, 2008 -- Quartzsite, AZ

Yesterday, Saturday, we woke to clearing skies at the Pinal County Fairgrounds in Casa Grande. The rain had stopped but the parking area was still muddy. Both Dar and I are getting the travel day routine down... each of us goes about our chores and we're ready to leave after an hour or so. Often, if possible, we hook up toady right where we're parked, before even starting the bus. But since it was so muddy and we needed to visit the dump station on the way out first, it'd be cleaner and easier to hook up in a big asphalt parking lot near the entrance to the fairgrounds. All chores were done, tire pressure adjusted, toady hooked up, and we were on the road by 10am.

Our objective was Quartzsite. This little town near the western border of Arizona has a population of about 3,000 year'round souls according to the US Census. Around Quartzsite are many thousands of acres of land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) which permits something that could be called "free-range camping" -- just drive your ol' RV onto these desert lands, find a place to park, drop anchor, and set-up housekeeping. There are no hook-ups of course, you've got to bring your own water and power, and you've got to take everything you brought in back out when you go. But the price is reasonable: the short-term (up to 14 days) areas are free. The larger long-term areas do have some amenities (central dump station, access to water, dumpsters for trash) and there's a nominal fee to offset those costs.

Quartzsite sits in a valley with mountains to the east and the west. From some higher vantage points, as you gaze down into the valley you can see RV's scattered about in every direction. It's an amazing site.

There are so many RV'ers here that I'm sure the population of the Quartzsite area explodes by ten or twenty thousand people or more during much of the winter. The high-point of the season is the "Big Tent" sports, vacation and RV show in late January. But even now, everywhere you turn there are people selling stuff to RV'ers. Most of the town reminds me of a giant flee market. If a big wind came up I think the town itself could be blown into the desert. Few things look permanent.

So Dar and I found a level spot in one of the short-term areas. The fresh water tank was nearly full, diesel tank full, LP tank full, and holding tanks empty, so we should be able to easily get through the 6 or 7 nights we plan to be here. We're facing east, for full morning sun to help warm the camper, and the nearest neighbor is maybe a hundred yards away. There's plenty of room, especially now that the season is starting to wind down. There are no street or security lights so it can be plenty dark. This week however, with clear skies, the moon is lighting up the desert.

Saturday night Dar wanted a campfire. It's illegal to cut firewood on BLM lands, and there's not much more than scrub brush anyway. So if you want a fire you've got to buy wood. In town there are hundreds of vendors selling all kinds of knick-knacks and cheap plastic junk from China, but it was a bit of a challenge to find someone selling firewood. Even after talking with locals it took some lookin' to find this guy selling "the finest California pine firewood". At $6.50 per small bag, the fire was going to be a short one.

It was dark and the fire was dying later that night when a neighbor came over and invited us over to their fire. Another neighbor of theirs, a country musician from Nashville, had come over with his guitar. This little group of about 10 people listened, sang, told jokes, and had a great time until the desert chill overcame the desire to continue. This experience, and dozens more we've had along the way, demonstrates the overt friendliness of people living this lifestyle. It's far easier to meet people and form impromptu, spontaneous gatherings than in our previous "fixed" lifestyle.

We're comfortable here and are planning to stay until we head across the border into that foreign land called California. We've got to eat all our fruit before going or it'll be confiscated at the border to feed the families of needy agricultural inspectors and border guards.

T

Friday, February 15, 2008

Gypsy Journal Rally Ends

Friday, February 15, 2008 -- Casa Grande, AZ.

We joined some neighbors last night, Thursday, in huddling for warmth around a circle on the leeward side of a camper to talk and enjoy a little wine. Another winter storm was getting geared up to attack places east and north of here, and colder weather, higher winds, and rain was predicted. RV'ing is a lot about being outside and often, especially in the evening, it's common to find groups, here and there, braving less-than-ideal weather at times, to be not-inside. To some degree I'm sure it has something to do with the size of the "indoors", but the fresh air, the camaraderie, and learning about new places and experiences is the real motivation.

As we huddled and talked, Dar and I finally found someone who's newer at fulltiming than we are. One couple had just sold their house in California last week. Their first official trip as fulltimers was to Casa Grande for the Gypsy Gathering Rally. Their real estate agent had given them a bottle of wine at closing and, not being big wine people, they brought it along mostly because they didn't have anyplace else to put it. It turned out to be a bottle of 1999 Dom Perignon which we, the group, promptly volunteered to help them consume. Carrying around full sealed bottles of expensive champagne in a camper can be dangerous. It could blow at any moment -- perhaps even causing an accident. No, it's better that we helped them improve the safety of their new-found environment by getting rid of that pressurized bottle. I believe this was the first time I've had a taste of Dom Perignon and my untrained and very pedestrian palate didn't detect much difference between it and the $9 bottle we normally get for New Years eve.

The Gypsy Gathering Rally is now history. We thoroughly enjoyed meeting new people who've been doing this far longer than our 7 months and comparing notes. For the most part, the seminars were very good and we're both leaving with new knowledge and some new tips and pointers for improving our quality of life on the road.

Oh, and Dar won a certificate good for free admission to a future Gypsy Gathering Rally. This is a big deal! It was one of the two large door prizes that were given away last night at the closing assembly. After coming up dry in the door prize department the previous three nights, she was a little... shall I say... exuberant at winning big the last night. She hasn't yet told me if she'll invite me to join her, so I'm on my best behavior. It's probably good I didn't get her a new sewer hose for Valentine's Day.

It did rain a fair amount overnight last night and we woke this morning to a wet and somewhat muddy parking area. We decided to avoid the rush to leave and stay here another night. At this point we're planning to leave for the Quartzite area Saturday morning, although nothing is cast in stone yet.

Andrea, Gage, Ryan... we're getting closer and closer... only a month away.

T

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Rally Almost History

Thursday, February 14, 2008 -- Casa Grande, AZ.

Since the big holiday of Valentines Day is upon us, I suppose it'd be a good idea if I went out and got my sweetie something. But checking my list of immediate needs and wants (new sewer hose, temperature probe, a second fire extinguisher) I don't find anything that seems to feel right... that will hit the "sweet-spot" and put a smile on her face. If the gift's not right, bad things can happen. Ever hear of the Valentine's Day Massacre?

The rally is almost a "wrap". Only one day to go. One of the many people we've met here, Mike Fousie, is a professional photographer with a neat 360 degree camera. He took a photo of the rally that'll make you feel like you're here with us. Check it out at his website... www.lightcurve.com/ ... and go to his February 12th entry. Click on the photo and you'll be amazed.

T

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Easy Tuesday

Tuesday, February 12, 2008 -- Casa Grande, AZ
The Gypsy Gathering Rally

A rather quiet day today. I attended a seminar on solar power, which included a lot of good discussion about electric power in general... batteries, generators, and ways to lower energy consumption overall. Dar found time to run into town for a little shopping after she attended seminars on personal safety and another about keeping the camper's exterior clean without water -- something of value since a lot of RV parks restrict the use of water for washing RVs.

The weather continues to be warm and I think today was the fourth consecutive day in the 70's. A cool-down is coming in the next day or two before it warms back up again. I don't like to talk about the weather here, considering so many people we know are enduring the worst winter in recorded history back in the Midwest. But I've really come to enjoy the cool, crisp mornings followed by warm, dry afternoons -- all under a bright sun all day long. There's something about it that feels right.

We have two more days at the rally. Tomorrow we've got to start thinking a little about what we're doing Friday or Saturday, after we get kicked out of the Pinal County Fairgrounds. Or, if we don't get around to it, may it'll wait until the next day.

That's it for today.

T

Monday, February 11, 2008

RV People

Monday, February 11, 2008 -- Casa Grande, AZ
The Gypsy Gathering Rally

Those living the RV lifestyle don't have the persistent stable neighborhoods that folks with normal houses have. In our previous "vinyl siding and waferboard" lives, we knew those living around us: next door was Gary and Maureen, on the other side Keith and Mary. Across the street was Bill and Jill, Paul and Cindy, Paul and Claire, and Tony and Helen. We'd get together, play cards, party, borrow tools, and talk about the other neighbors. There were informal competitions for who could put the most fertilizer and water on the yard -- the winner got the greenest lawn on the street. There was a comfort... a stability... something to rely on.

So when one commits to a fulltime RV lifestyle for a period of time that consistent social "backstop" isn't there. Neighbors come and go... You come and go. The "neighborhood" is constantly changing. Yesterday, Phil and Jane were next door. Today, they've been replaced by Jim and Darby. The consistency and comfort is gone. Or is it?

Since we started this project almost 8 months ago now, we've actually found that our constantly changing neighbors are very consistent after all: consistently social, personable, talented, and friendly; consistently willing to help; consistently interested in what we've been doing and where we're going; and always very genuine. Well, almost always -- I have run into a person or two from California with a superiority complex and who were quite sure their "do-do" has no odor whatsoever. But aside from them, it's been 99% great, friendly, "real" people. There's a kinship that includes an incredibly wide-ranging socio-economic profile. It doesn't matter what you drive or what you live in. It's the darnedest thing... it's a big family.

Everything I said in the paragraph above has been driven home again with our experience here at the Gypsy Gathering. This is only the second rally put together by fulltimers Nick & Terry Russell. Nick is the editor of a publication called the Gypsy Journal, a printed tabloid-style paper aimed at the RV community which he publishes totally from his bus-conversion RV -- only the printing is done elsewhere. Somehow, after just one previous attempt, he's managed to gather together almost 300 RV's and over 500 RV'ers for four days of educational seminars, fun, and socializing.

All 300 of us are parked closely together at the Pinal County Fairgrounds. A few of the fairgrounds building are being utilized for meetings and seminars. There are a few vendors here with products or services aimed at the RV community -- and RV'ers are similar to golfers in that they believe the next device or electronic gizmo is the one that will solve all their problems.

Tonight we attended an informal jam session, where some of the more musically talented rally attendees just sit around and play anything that comes to mind. The music is surprisingly good, the audience appreciative -- and we had a blast.

That's today's news from Casa Grande, AZ.

T

Friday, February 8, 2008

Pima Air Museum

February 8, 2008 -- Benson, AZ

I'm a sucker for big old flying hardware, especially World War II "warbirds", so any visit to the Tucson area wouldn't be complete without a stop at the Pima Air Museum. Pima has one of the better collections of old military aircraft that I've seen. We stopped by for a couple hours a few days ago and spent most of that time walking around the outside exhibits under the warm Arizona sun.

I'm not sure if I'm right about this but I have a suspicion the location of the Pima Air Museum -- adjacent to Davis Monthan Air Force Base right next door -- is more than just a coincidence. You may remember that Davis Monthan is the place where obsolete and surplus military aircraft are sealed up and stored in large desert parking lots. Despite the current military activity in Afganistan and Iraq, there are fields full of C-130's, A-10's, C-141's, F-14's, and many many others. Millions and billions of dollars worth of high-tech aluminum flying machines just laying around waiting for re-activation, refurbishing, carted off to a museum or static display in front of a VFW post somewhere, or, ultimately, being cut apart and recycled into aluminum beer cans.

Back to Pima Air Museum... I wonder if, late at night, museum "procurement crews" sneak into Davis Monthan with a jeep to "liberate" aging, soon to be scraped, warbirds, bring 'em back, clean 'em up a little, and place 'em into the collection. The government probably wouldn't miss 'em... they have trouble keeping track of all the free gear we're giving the Iraqis. I know... that's not the way it works. But I like thinking of the possibilities.

When I look at an old warbird I think of all the people involved with it. From the engineers who designed it, the builders who put it together, to the people who flew it and supported it... a whole bunch of dedicated people had a big part of their lives passionately wrapped up in this "thing" now forelornely sitting on the desert, lucky enough to have been saved from the scrapers torches but never to fly again.

T

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Kartchner Caverns State Park

February 6, 2008 -- Benson, AZ

A couple days ago we visited Kartchner Caverns State Park. We don't have much experience with caves and caverns so this stop was especially interesting for us.

This place was discovered by a couple amateur cavers in 1974. For the ensuing four years they explored and cataloged the extent of their find in complete privacy. In 1978, they told the family that owned the land and together they agreed it must be preserved and kept as natural and pristine as possible. Other caves and caverns around the country had been trashed by the time experts appreciated what they had, and no one wanted this to happen here. As far as they could find, no human had stepped foot in the caverns before they were discovered. It was totally virgin and unbelievably beautiful.

It took 10 more years of secret negotiations with Arizona State Park officials and legislators to make the park a reality. In 1988 it officially became Kartchner Caverns State Park and the public was told of the find.

More years passed as the State Park prepared the caverns for public tours. Concrete walkways and railings were carefully installed, interior lighting put into place, and a system of doors added that create a seal between the caverns and the outside world. The goal is to keep the cavern as natural as possible so it continues to evolve -- even while thousands of people go through it each year.

The inside of the cavern is about 70f degrees with 99% humidity year-round. The only way to get inside is on a guided tour. Visitors are instructed to not touch anything other than the provided hand rails, and if accidental touches happen, the guide will mark that spot so a cleaning crew can address it. As visitors enter the cavern, they're misted with a fine spray of water that makes lint, dust, and loose hair heavier so it falls to the walkway for later cleaning rather then becoming airborne and floating to places that can't be cleaned. These efforts to keep the cavern as natural as possible are impressive, and I think they enrich the experience.

No photography is permitted inside the cavern and even the lighting is set up to brighten as we walk into an area, and then dim as we leave.

The natural formations inside the caverns have been growing for more than 200,000 years and are simply incredible. The colors are spectacular. I'm having trouble coming up with descriptions and superlatives that can relate in words what we saw. Stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws, coral pipes, draperies, and flowstone are all terms associated with the formations, and are all created in one way or another with the simple process of flowing drops of water depositing minerals, mostly calcite, from the rock structures above the cavern.

It's not the largest cave and cavern system in the country by any measure, but it's pristine condition and continuing evolution make it a "must see" for anyone traveling through this part of the world.

T

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Wintery Arizona

February 5, 2008 -- Benson, AZ

Look, I know that it's not always warm in Arizona. I know the sun doesn't shine every day. I've been around long enough to learn weather can be extreme and unpredictable at times, wherever you are. But it's still a bit of a shock to wake to snow on the ground in southern Arizona! And that, my friends, is exactly what we found when we pulled open the blinds this morning.

On our way down to Green Valley for a family visit yesterday, this large, dark, angry-looking cloud, which stretched from the distant southwest to as far as we could see to the northeast, was rolling it's way toward us as we drove west on I-10. It looked like something from a science-fiction film. The instant we collided with it, the outdoor temp on my car thermometer dropped 10 degrees. Every imaginable kind of precipitation fell in the next few minutes... rain, freezing rain, sleet, snow, ice pellets... we had it all. The wind was man-handling the little Blazer, but 80,000 pound semi trucks were still passing us at 80mph. As various scenes from my early life started to pass before my eyes, I was trying to figure out who'd even notice a rusty gray splotch of flattened General Motors metal laying on the side of this road. We may never be found. I could see the headline: "Crazy Couple Co-Habitating in Camper Cancelled in Car Crash near Kartchner Caverns".

Alas, we survived. The crisis passed. The weather settled down a little and we made it to our appointment with an Aunt of mine who we haven't seen for many years. Actually, I have two aunts that live in the Tucson area, and we've been thoroughly enjoying our time with them and their families.

The storm continued for much of the day and was substantially over by nightfall. Some "wrap-around" moisture fell as snow overnight and provided us with that little snowy surprise this morning.

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Apology to all those in the Midwest getting hammered by the most recent big winter storm -- I'm sorry for whining about Arizona weather. You've been having the worst winter in many years and you certainly don't need someone like me complaining about a little dusting of snow.
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Not much else going on today. We're getting caught up on some administrative chores, took a long walk, and plan to make it to Kartchner Caverns this afternoon.

Good day everyone.

T

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Across the Great Southwest

February 2, 2008 -- Benson, AZ

My last post had us blowing into Deming, NM. As morning broke the next day, the 31st of January, the wind had subsided, was predicted to remain low the rest of the day, and had turned around so it was now coming out of the east -- a tailwind as we drive west! Since we already had everything pretty much in travel mode it was easy to make the decision to move on to Arizona. So with Dar behind the wheel we got back on the road and continued our trek westward.

Both we and the bus enjoyed the tailwind. The bus was getting over 8mpg and running smoothly, the roads were good, and the sun at our back illuminated the mountains ahead of us on this bright clear day.

By a little after noon, we'd arrived at Escapees Saguaro Coop Park in Benson, AZ. This park, like all other Escapees parks, doesn't take reservations. Arrivals are handled on a first come, first served basis. This is a very popular park and it can be tough to get in, but we arrived early and they had a site for us -- way up at the top of the hill. Once parked and set up, we had a chance to look around a little.

Benson sits in a valley with mountains to the east, north, and west. Depending on the time of day, the mountains are lit-up by the sun. For example, in the late afternoon, the low, red sun shines across the valley floor and shines on the mountain range to the east. Being up at the top of the park we have great views in every direction.

Since we're only about 35 miles from Tucson, we decided that we'd stay here for the next week and "commute" into Tucson on those days we needed to be there. That decision also fit with our objective of trying to avoid larger cities. You've probably figured out from previous posts that we enjoy the solitude and lack of congestion in more rural areas.

So here we'll be for a while. We have a number of relatives in the Tucson area and we're looking forward to spending some time with them.

That's it for today's post.

T