The Deserts of the Southwest

Since we were unable to find an RV Park in Phoenix, we moved on down the road toward Tucson, which is Southeast of Phoenix approximately one hundred miles. We traveled on I-10, which is the Southern most of all the Interstate Highways. Our “trail” meandered back and forth across some of the world’s most “Godforsaken” desert. I was born and raised in Southern Idaho, and thought our “sage brush” wilderness was what the “end of the world” would look like! After traversing the deserts of Arizona, New Mexico and West Texas … Southern Idaho, Nevada and Utah look like the “Garden of Eden”!! I’ll never complain again about the distance between gas stations in our part of the West. We traveled through miles and miles of “cacti-forest” … which neither of us had ever seen before. Not really conducive for camping and hiking … and I’m certain the entire desert was populated with rattle snakes, centipedes, scorpions and a poisonous lizard called a gila monster. We never let the dogs go out into the “woods” to do their “duty” for fear they’d bring back a nasty “friend”!


We were unfamiliar with the variety of flora and fauna in this part of the desert but found this one barrel cactus aptly named “The Pineapple Cactus.”

CASA GRANDE NATIONAL MONUMENT, ARIZONA

In spite of what appeared to be a totally inhospitable landscape, the ancient native people had evidently lived and flourished in the Casa Grande area for thousands of years. The Park Service Guide told us that over a thousand people had lived in this community, and that this was but one of many such communities strewn across the countryside … where ever there was a source of water for the irrigation of their farms. They had an extensive trade network, where they bartered their food items for goods not locally available. They have found sea shells from the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean. Rock tools and pottery from the Great Lakes and coral items from Florida. We found all of this to be fascinating!

Because of past looting and destruction of artifacts, the authorities have covered most of the sites with dirt, burying some as deep and fifteen feet, which we thought was a clever “act of preservation”!!! With the passing of time and availability of funds, these sites are then uncovered and studied. Again, we found this to be fascinating!! The very large building called “Casa Grande”, meaning “Great House” was built out of a particularly hard clay … that mixed easily with water and dries as hard as a rock … it took several hundred people, months to build this large structure … one basket load of wet clay at a time, stacked and shaped by hand. They had no metal tools and used wooden picks and shovels to dig the clay by hand, carried it in baskets on their backs to a water source and then on to the construction site. All of their buildings were similarly constructed. Through time, the major destructor of these artifacts has been rain water, i.e. rain melts “unfired” water based clay … fortunately it doesn’t rain much in this part of the world!! This explains why the Park Service constructed a “roof” over this major structure.


Coming back home from Casa Grande we came across this tourist attraction, stopped in and had a fun time petting and feeding the animals. Shy Girl had a blast!!! She was like a little kid in a candy store … she really loves animals!!! One of her favorites was the “Bird Cage” … a large, fenced in area where they kept these cute little, colorful birds called Rainbow Lorikeets, from Australia, that would fly over and land on your arm, head, shoulder or any other spot, to eat the food out of your hand. They gave her a little cup with “nectar” in it, with a lid so it wouldn’t spill …. she was told she didn’t have to take the lid off, because the birds were trained to pry off the lid so they could get to the “goodies” … and they were right … the birds could take off the lid faster than a person could!!!!

“ROOSTER COGBURN RANCH”

Although the birds were probably her favorite, she found the goats, burros, deer and rabbits to be irresistible.

CASA GRANDE, MODERN DAY ARIZONA GHOST TOWN

Half way between Phoenix and Tucson AZ is a “new” community, built in 2007, that is essentially a ghost town … reminds me of a pretty girl that got all dressed to go to a party, only to have the party called off!! As the “back-story” goes, there were plans to build a huge electric truck manufacturing plant in the area with a promise of thousands of jobs … the word got out and speculators bought up all the land in the area, and convinced “big money” in the big cities of Arizona to develop the town-site and subdivisions … hundreds of millions of dollars were spent on this “model city” … before the “shell game” imploded and the dream of easy money evaporated!!!! Whereas the big Mall and many small shopping strip malls are essentially vacant, the Walmart is doing very well, with it’s parking lot crowded almost 24/7. There are probably ten to fifteen thousand people living in the beautiful subdivisions … homes that would sell for $700 – $900, ooo in California are being offered for $150-$250,000. In time, the word will spread, and people will move here from California to retire … the climate is dry and not too severe, and it is conveniently located between two large cities … country living without the crowds!!

ROGER ON THE ROOF

Of course, things do not always go as planned. After an adventure in the “Ghost Town” we came home to find our vent cover on the RV broken. With Siri’s help we found the dealer in town and after much discussion and hand signals (LOL) we purchased the type of vent cover we needed and Roger put it on with very little effort other than getting up on the ladder and getting down off the roof.

It’s amazing how high the top of the RV is … about eleven feet from the ground up … but forty five feet from the top looking down. Whereas climbing up the ladder and climbing off onto the roof wasn’t too bad … I thought I was going to be “trapped” up on the roof of the bus for the rest of my life, as I couldn’t back down as easily as I had gone up … this growing old is getting to be more challenging as the days go by!!!

Las Vegas, Nevada

We left Quartzsite, late as usual, and got on the road to Parker which would then take us to Las Vegas. Roger and I were talking and admiring the scenery. After we had been driving for an hour we realized that we were on the wrong road. How could this be? We are intelligent people and experienced followers of maps. After the hour drive and 55 miles later, we were back to the fruit inspection station, and it became clear how it had happened. . . the California border. The Department of Agriculture wants to make sure you have no fruit to bring into the state to contaminate their crops. We were inspected and declared that we our handful of table grapes posed no imminent threat, and they did not confiscate them and incarcerate us. Directly to the right of the Inspection Stop was the highway we were looking for and we had gotten so flustered with the road, and DOA stop that we failed to notice that our highway turned abruptly to the right, and we continued straight instead of turning.

On the right road at last we headed toward Vegas but we were weary and it was late so we turned off at a rest area in Nevada and went to bed. No electricity, water, sewer, which meant no slides out. We were able to sleep well because we were so tired. In the morning we awoke to find ourselves in a beautiful setting of mountains and desert.

While it was cold, it was beautiful. The road itself was very good and I asked Roger if I could drive. [Giving up control is not one of his strengths.] I started driving and was doing fairly well until the road and scenery changed and I was on some awful, narrow, two lane, shoulder-less road with rumble strips on both sides and in the middle. Roger cringed every time I hit one of the rumble strips and “jerked” the steering wheel to get off. I continued driving as Roger got more and more nervous. I finally stopped and if he was going to divorce me it would have been then. He has had much more experience than I with winding mountain roads, and was somewhat justified in his “anxiety” as was I. As it was easier to change drivers, than taking him to the hospital with a heart attack, I LET him drive!!

Keyta’s look says it all

We finally arrived in Las Vegas with no further mishaps and located the RV park in which we had reservations … a KOA (Kampgrounds Of America) owned and operated by the Sam’s Town casino. This was pretty neat setup … a hotel (which of course we didn’t need), a casino (where we promptly lost $17.00), multiple movie theaters (with $5.00 tickets … we went to the movies every night we were there!) and a variety of nice restaurants for our frequent dining out. Below is the light and water show we watched in the Atrium of the Hotel. The steak was $35 dollars and well worth it.

We had WalMart right across the street and visited it frequently. We also made a trip to Hoover Dam and loved the view, water, the workings of the dam, we even found a lovely RV park on Lake Mead.

After a week of R & R (a military term meaning Rest and Recreation), we again began our journey. We decided that there was too much winter weather (as in … ice and snow) in Kanab, Utah, and the roads leading South were very inviting ! We reasoned that Kanab could wait until the snow had melted, and headed South to Phoenix, AZ… and so thus ends another “chapter in our “wanderings”

We Begin our Pilgrimage

Our life is in these two vehicles and the experiences we have with them

Roger’s only experience to RV life was in 2016 when he and Shirley rented an RV in Boise, Idaho, and took his sister Jeri and her daughter Sheri Lynn on a ten day sojourn to Glacier National Park in Montana.  There were many lessons such as setting up the RV at an RV Park hooking up the electricity, water, sewage (ugh) and getting it all accomplished in the warm sunshine which was far superior to the cold, ultra-dark nights of a remote RV park so far from civilization that they didn’t have water, electricity or sewer services.  Such an “encampment” is called “boone-docking”. Sort of like living off the land like Daniel Boone and his Rough Riders … oh no… the Rough Riders belong to Teddy Roosevelt many years after Daniel Boone had settled Kentucky.   Anyway, Sheri Lynn assured everyone that within 3 days we’d have learned all we needed to know to survive in any situation. I believe this must have been in her Church Relief Society handbook. At any rate we survived and somehow, like all bad memories, several years later when Sheila and Roger decided to purchase an RV and become “nomads,” only the positive, enjoyable memories came to mind.

Roger’s only experience in RV life came in 2016 when he and Shirley rented an RV in Boise, Idaho and took sister Jeri and her daughter Sheri Lynn on a ten day sojourn to Glacier National Park in Montana. There were many lessons learned along the way, like setting up at an RV Park, i.e., hooking up the electricity, water, sewage (ugh) and getting it all accomplished in the warm bright sunshine…which was far superior to the cold, ultra-dark nights of a remote RV Park so far from civilization that they often didn’t have water, electricity or sewer service. Such an “encampment” was called “boone-docking,” i.e., living off the land like Daniel Boone and his rough riders . . . oh, no!!! The Rough Riders belonged to Teddy Roosevelt, many years after D.B. had settled Kentucky!!

So one day as I was enthusiastically describing our new nomadic lifestyle to a new acquaintance, Gay Dearington, daughter Tami had introduced to me, Gay immediately took over the conversation to describe how she and her late husband had traveled the highways and byways of the West in their RV. One of their annual highlights of the year was the big “RV Encampment” held annually at Quartzite, Arizona. As she described it, thousands of RVers from all over the U.S. congregate for a month in Quartzite, in what appears to be the biggest “flea-market” in the country! They have several very large tents, one reputed to be a mile long, occupied by vendors offering mostly RV “goodies” of every descriptions to attendees. Membership in RV camps, seat cushions, sun visors, gloves, sewer hoses, tire air pressure monitors, magnetic bracelets to cure every ailment, etc. etc., and the list goes on and on.

Welcome to Quartzsite. Each white dot is an RV scattered across the landscape.

Roger’s nephew, Mike Odell, sister Helen’s son, is a “Snowbird” who works as a construction crane operator during the summer, and winters down South.  We found that he was in Quartzsite and made contact with him and his wife Loretta, upon our arrival in Quartzsite. It was gratifying to “hook up” with them as they had been RVing for over 10 years.  They were very understanding and helpful in assisting us to learn the ins-and-outs of our RV.  Mike stated that our “learning curve” was going to be rather steep (like vertical) the first year or so, but promised it would flatten out after a period of “trial and error”.  This encouragement gives us “hope” when we really mess something up!! The first problems Mike tackled for us was to figure out how to turn on our hot water, for which Sheila was very grateful.  I would never have figured it out, and would have been heating water on the stove or microwave for the foreseeable future.

Michael studying the Tire Monitoring System
Pricilla was helping him study

We went out with Mike one day to try out our newly acquired “Gold Bug II” metal detector, that brother Garth had helped us acquire.  No, we didn’t find any “nuggets” laying around, but did get some much-needed exercise!  Mike did much better with his newly acquired toy, and found several coins.  That night, we treated Mike and Loretta to a steak dinner at the local “yacht club” for fixing our hot water problem, and yes, that really is its name!  The owner has a real sense of humor, and named it that, notwithstanding, the restaurant is a thousand miles from the ocean and in the middle of the Sonora Desert of Western Arizona.  We then went back to our “bus” and played “spades” for a couple of hours.

SCENES OF QUARTZSITE, AZ

The first several days kept us busy wandering through the “mile long” tent, window shopping and like any good “flea market”, sampling the goodies of the many “taco tents” scattered along the way.  A trip to the nearest Walmart, 35 miles away in Parker, AZ, or Albertson’s in Blyth, CA, only about 25 miles away, added “spice” and variety to our somewhat limited social life!!

Sheila was totally immersed in the variety, size and beautiful colors of the rocks that were on sale almost at every turn.  One of her many hobbies is making jewelry, so she had a real appreciation for what was available and their cost.  They had Geodes from South America, that were 5-7 feet in length, 1-2 feet in width, with huge crystals inside … some were selling for $500-$1000.  Turquoise was very common, from small bracelet size to 2-3 inch stones that were beautiful and very reasonably priced.  There were specimens of extremely beautiful minerals that we had no idea of their names, but would have purchased if we’d had a trailer to carry them home with us!!

After approximately a week, we decided to leave Quartzite and go to Las Vegas, NV, on our way to Kanab, UT………………..thus closing the book on an extremely interesting first chapter of our travels and leaving us all dog tired!!!

“New-bee” (short for new beginnings!!)

Being a “newbee” (aka newbie) is exhilarating, exciting and also frightening and frustrating. It took us more than two weeks to get ready to go; not including the months before when we were “getting ready.” We picked a day and on that day we did our final packing and got the tow dolly ready with the truck on it and what do you know, we were missing a driver’s side rachet (which is a gadget that tightens the straps around the truck tires that keeps the truck attached to the tow dolly). That took another day to get, install and tie the truck tires to the tow dolly. So we finally started on January 15.

We dutifully made reservations for our days getting to the Quartzsite RV Show and staying in Quartzsite, AZ. The only reseverations that we kept were for our days in Quartzsite. We left Elk Grove at 2:00 PM on Jan. 15. It was rush hour and we needed to get out of the traffic and off the road so we stayed at a truck stop the first night, after one of the straps holding the truck tire to the tow dolly came off and was dragging for several miles. Roger fixed that, after a fashion, and we continued on, only eight hours behind schedule. The next night we were trying to get to a Sequoia resort when a trucker let us know something was wrong. Oh yes, the other tire strap was dragging and was nearly shredded. It was about 8 at night and we were near an off ramp of a highway. After getting the strap back in place we went to a rest stop and slept.

We came to an RV/mobile home park outside of Kings Canyon and decided that this was a good place to stay. The owners were gracious and helped us hook up our water and electricity in the pouring rain and we were all pretty happy to have a place to stay for the night. We couldn’t get the hot water to work and the water in the faucets and the toilet was red in color … caused by the anti-freeze which we had paid $150 to have the “bus” winterized for the frigid weather anticipated when we got to Kanab, Utah. The next day we explored King’s Canyon and Sequoia National Forest and all (including the three dogs) loved the diversion and beauty of this natural setting.

Our Campsite
Kings Canyon – Oh yes, there was snow. Roger always says rain below and snow above.

We learned that the pin in the tow dolly was supposed to be removed when the vehicle is loaded on it. Roger crawled under the tow dolly and the truck and removed the pin. Problem solved.

Sequoia National forest is beautiful

Roger and I drove to the place where we had cancelled reservations and found that there was no way we could have taken the RV on the road that led to that site. We ended up staying at the other site for 2 days and took off for Bakersfield, CA. We visited with Shirley’s sister Sheryl and enjoyed her company if only for a short time, and it was also late Saturday, Jan 19. We stayed in another truck stop for the night and made it to Quartzsite on Sunday, Jan 20.