Hot Fun in the Sun

It has been a week long on fun, and short on quality photos. There’s a lot to be said about having such a great time that you forget to record anything for future reference. What was all the fun about?

20180126_11331482552024.jpgT@bazona! An annual gathering in the Arizona desert of fun-minded folks who share a passion for camping in their T@Bs, T@Gs, and T@DAs, T@B and T@DA share a common heritage, as they were both manufactured by Dutchman – T@B from 2004-09, and T@DA from 2008-10. Dutchman then got out of the small trailer business, and the T@B line was picked up by Nucamp. It’s more of a traditional teardrop shape than ours is, but loaded with charm and features. A T@G is an even smaller version – about the size of a queen-sized bed, most (?) with a clamshell kitchen.

We registered to join T@bazona last summer, and were fortunate to snag a site in the Usery Park group campground (no electric/water), where we camped with 25 other campers adjacent to the main campground, home to another 30 or so nestled in gorgeous sites with electric/water, firepits, and picnic tables.20180124_1428551804002955.jpg There were probably 80 people in all. This gorgeous county park in Maricopa County (Phoenix) is a a treasure – a maze of hiking/biking/bridal trails encircle the campground.

It’s beautifully maintained – kudos to the folks here who support this wonderful park system with their tax dollars. We’ve stayed at other Parks in the County, and they are all places to which we would return.

T@bazona is socializing with like-minded campers, sharing food, campfires, and the occasional adult beverage, and (of course) camping stories, tips, and tricks.20180127_1816321517153322.jpgThat’s the #1 reason we enjoy these rallies so much – avid campers trick out their rigs, and are proud and happy to show off the results. It’s all about solar, storage, decorative tips, towing, WiFi, and awnings/shelters. We had campers from as far away as Maryland, two rigs from Michigan, and from all points inbetween – everyone has their own style.

We have an organized sort of Parade of Homes, where  we traipse from camper to camper looking at all the cool stuff everyone has done. Most of the attendees were in T@Bs, along with a handful of T@Gs. We were the sole T@DA this year. Here are a few things that I’d never seen before (remember, I warned you that I took very few photos)…

Solar oven. There were cookies baking inside. Not sure how great this would be in Michigan, but it seems tailor-made for Arizona.20180127_144242408289790.jpgHow about this nifty propane radiant heater? Never seen one of these before. This could heat up our little awning on a chilly night.20180131_1713591686625743.jpgWe’re not big on game playing, but who wouldn’t love T@B checkers?20180127_135748656221599.jpgOur next project may be to develop some kind of aerial pole thingy to boost our wifi cell service. In areas where we have a weak signal, we usually wind up putting one of our phones on the roof of the Campsh@ck to boost the signal for our hotspot. I’ve been campaigning for John to mount a flagpole holder on the camper, and put a fishing pole in the holder. We could put the cell phone in a baggie on a hook and raise it up above the roofline to boost signal. Not pretty or elegant, but hopefully effective. John took a bunch of photos of possible projects, but he’s being pretty secretive about sharing them (for now, anyway).

We did get in a hike to the wind cave at Usery, with camping pals Mickie and Kim. 20180126_1020002127100023.jpg20180126_095349926059056.jpgIt was a gorgeous morning for a hike, and we wound up and up along the trail to the cave, about 1000′ elevation over a two-mile hike. Perfect morning to hit the trail, and I’m happy we got our hike done by the time the afternoon furnace-like heat kicked in.

After four days, it was time to leave. We were excited to head to Catalina State Park for a rendezvous with our Vermont friends (and former T@DA owners) Cathie and Jay. They’ve since moved on to an Airstream, but retain a small-camper enthusiasm for the outdoor life. We hoped for a more sedate experience in Catalina than the last time we visited. 

Go for a hike? Sure? We wandered up the trail with Jay to Romero Pools, which we have visited a few times in the past. It was shocking to see how little water there was.20180129_110405959072727.jpg20180129_110647-11827750297.jpg Where’s the pool? Other times we have visited, we’ve been treated to the delightful sound of running water down the mountainside into the pools, and dozens of hikers cooling off hot feet in the cool flowing water. This was a very different experience. Nearly barren. It was hot on the trail – we suffered.20180129_115821-11850123116.jpgEverything here is so dry – we are one matchstick away from a catastrophe, it seems. In the seven or eight years I’ve been coming to this area, this is the first time where there has been ZERO snow in the upper elevations. Mount Lemmon has an elevation of about 9200′ – there should be some snow up there in January. Seems like this is a bad sign for the area in the coming months.

Ahhhh….we’re now in the comfort of our Madera Canyon cabin. If you are a reader of this blog from a year ago, you’ll recognize this view.20180131_170553-11329694649.jpg Yep. For the next month, we are stretching out. Hike. Bird-watching. Coatimundi. Time with my sisters (who are both in the area for this month). SuperBowl. Cycling. If you want to find me in the next month, I’d suggest you look on the porch swing on the right.

We began our first day here with the most incredible views from of the supermoon eclipse. Set our alarm for 4:30 am, and sat outside with coffee, watching the eclipse develop over the mountainside. For the second time in a year, I was very sad not to have photography equipment up to the challenge of a celestial event. It was magnificent.

Feeling very peaceful….wishing the same for you.

 

 

Keeping It Simple

After a week of nearly perfect camping in Prescott (AZ), we’ve had plenty of time to reflect on why camping makes us happy, and what it is about camping that we really like.

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We’re happiest when everything is simple.

Sounds easy, but it’s really something we’ve had to work at. Our T@DA camper is small – yet we have everything we need to keep us comfy in even the worst of environments (and believe me, we have somehow found them!). In our sixth year on the road, we are still discarding seldom-used items (the cribbage board didn’t make the trip this year), to make space for something we’ll use more. In this spirit, we’ve taken out the television, and replaced it with a basket screwed to the wall where we can accumulate maps and also charge our tablets and phones. Out is the microwave, in its place is a cabinet for food storage. Everything is a compromise.

Yavapai Campground, one of our very favorite sites in Prescott, AZ is a great example of how this works for us. It’s a small campground – 22 sites. There’s no electricity, and just one water pump. A huge benefit is the composting toilets, which use no water or chemicals, and are totally oderless. They are an enormous leap forward over the common pit toilets found in most rustic campgrounds. Sure wish there were more campgrounds using this technology. We love the crisp air (cold and crisp at 5800′ in January!), the large sites, and the quiet. John has rigged 220 watts of portable solar power to keep our lights on and the fridge running.

We love our quiet power source, and it works especially well in the sunny Southwest.

Thank goodness we’re not clothes hounds. Funny, but if you look back over five years of these posts, you’ll see that we wear the same clothes year after year, adding a favorite new t-shirt one year/retiring one. John has his favorite fleece pullovers – the pumpkin one and the red one. I bring the same pink fleece vest, blue hoodie, and cardigan sweater, which I wear every day. This year, I retired my old one, which was threadbare, and replaced it with a brand new one. Heaven! Heavy duty sandals, hiking boots, and cycling shoes account for our footwear (plus shower sandals for public showers). I’d rather go without something than frustrate myself everyday by carrying too much stuff. This certainly isn’t everyone’s system, but it works for us.

We have a small shower we use when there’s not one in the campground, as at Yavapai.20180115_100524.jpgOur 22 gallon water supply, and six gallon gray water tank don’t allow us the luxury of a long shower. In fact, we took four showers, plus used small amounts of water for other things, and still didn’t fill our 6 gallon tank. We have two one-gallon jugs we fill at the pump for drinking water, and water for dishwashing, which we usually do outside. John has rigged a system for shaving and haircuts using the truck mirrors, which is downright comical to watch.20180115_100205513767212.jpg Seems odd, but when there aren’t other mirrors around, it’s all we have.

But, we sure do eat well. We carry a Napoleon propane grill and a CampChef Everest stove along, and use either or both every day. Instead of using individual one-pound tanks, we have a three-pound aluminum tank with two connections. Saves us a ton of money, and we don’t have all empty cannisters to recycle. We often Dutch Oven large batches of stews and chilis, which are wonderful after hikes or bikes rides when we’re hungry and cold.20180117_1742081704686970.jpgWe do cheat a bit and put the Dutch Oven directly on a burner set with as low of a flame as possible. Then, we augment the heat to oven-style by putting heated charcoal briquettes on the lid. Sure, it’s cheating, but we like not using so much charcoal.

There are great hikes in Prescott. The first one on this trip was a new trail (for us) near the campground – about four miles, which meant we could take Jezzy along. There were still remains of a recent bit snow along the trail, which turned the surface into a thick sludge. So much collected in-between Jezzy’s toes that she eventually plunked herself down, and refused to walk any further until John pressed out some of the huge clods, relieving the pressure.20180113_1159431177451577.jpg Back at camp, she needed a footbath which she patiently endured, although it obviously is not something she enjoyed.20180113_1424061900364621.jpgWe drove a bit north to the Watson Lake Recreation Area, for a spectacular hike a day later. Massive granite boulders circle the lake, caused by wind and water erosion. 20180116_114142199644124.jpgRough and gritty, they are perfect for clambering around. We took the trail that circumnavigated the lake, and were treated to stunning views. It was really a fun hike.20180116_122853548826146.jpgImpossible for us to be in Prescott without climbing Granite Mountain, a 7600′ peak that looks over the campground. While not a difficult climb, it’s relentless. We were so happy to get to the top and eat peanut butter sandwiches and Starbucks Double-Shots. Oh yeah.20180118_141301301282709.jpg

On to Lost Dutchman State Park, where we met up with Vern and Ilene, friends from the Phoenix area.20180119_1739441326314844.jpg

20180119_173857.jpgThey were the very first people we met who who also owned a T@DA, and we’ve still maintained a close friendship, even though they’ve moved on in the camping world to a larger motor home. Before the rain and cold moved in, we had one perfect night for a grilled pizza and campfire. There’s lots to catch up with when we only have an annual visit.

The best part? Ilene and I went into Phoenix, where we joined 20,000 other men, women, and children for the Women’s March. 20180121_105917516606138.jpgIt was exhilarating.20180121_1101541533296170.jpg One of the best moments was when we came upon this group of 15 women, all wearing the red gowns and head gear of The Handmaid’s Tale. 20180124_104629-11288863792.jpgThere was a young father pulling his four-year old son in a wagon at about the same point. We heard his plaintive voice, “Who are these people? What is the point?” Ilene and I cracked up. I said to the father, “Good luck with the next 15 years.” He grinned ruefully and replied, “Oh, it’s going to be an interesting discussion at lunch”.

Today, were moving to Usery Mountain Park, where we’ll join about 70 other T@Bs and maybe a T@DA or two for a few days at an event called T@bazona. Some of these folks here we’ve met along the way somewhere, but most of them are unknown to us. We’re looking forward to picking up new tips and camping hacks, and discussing favorite campgrounds. T@B owners are always a lively bunch, and we’re happy to be included in any of the gatherings. Our best camping friendships have resulted from these types of gatherings.

 

Lake Havasu Love

Seems like we’ve had an entire week of doing nothing – but don’t think I’m complaining. Not so. But, we’ve been living in near-luxury at Lake Havasu State Park (AZ), in a site with both electric AND water, plus neighbors at arm’s length. Such luxury does bring out the sloth in us both.20180111_144759.jpgWe did get a good start though with a hike through SARA’s Crack,  (also called Crack in the Mountain). We were anxious to complete this hike through a slot canyon, after being thwarted on an attempt two or three years ago, when we were here the first time. At that time, we had Jezzy with us, and some of the elevation changes and narrow spaces were just too much for her to navigate, and we were forced to abort. Jezzy stayed home this time, and we negotiated the modest slot canyon easily.20180108_121226.jpg20180108_120755.jpgAlthough most of the hike consisted of walking down a pretty boring wash at the bottom of the canyon, it was fun to clamber through the slot. The best part, though, was the turnaround spot at the end, where we ran into Lake Havasu. Can you imagine a more perfect picnic spot?20180108_115250.jpg 20180108_115506.jpgThis site is maintained by the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) for boaters, who may want to camp overnight. Plenty of room to pitch a tent, plus a pit toilet, and trash baskets.  Worth any amount of effort to get there. We took the long way back, so we could pass the Lizard Geoglyph, a fun (but hardly historical) hiker-made rock formation. It’s difficult to see, but use your imagination to see the giant lizard.20180108_140837.jpgCycling around Lake Havasu is easy – it’s mostly flat, the Lake is pretty, and there are a number of historic lighthouse replicas nearby to keep things interesting. We visited most of these before, but they are always fun to see and photograph.20180109_120856.jpg20180110_164747.jpgPlus, Lake Havasu is the home of the historic London Bridge, which was dismantled and reassembled here. Its serene presence rules the the area. 20180110_114105.jpgWhile we were at Lake Havasu, we made an unexpected, but most fun connection with someone whose blog I have read and admired for a long time. Ingrid and Al are full-timer RVers. In addition, Ingrid is an incredible photographer – the link above is to some of her Texas posts, which are probably my favorites. After seeing my last post about heading to Havasu, she sent me a note stating that they were also in Havasu, and how about Happy Hour? So happy that she took the chance in contacting me – we four had fun swapping favorite camping sites and discussing future plans. P1020088.jpgIf you enjoy beautiful photography, check out her blog.

We had one more blast from the past today while visiting Buses by the Bridge, and annual VW Camper Fest (hippie blast). If you have ever lusted about hitting the road in a WV bus, this is the group for you. Part flea market, part hippie, part wannabe, and mostly pure fun. Buses, some perfectly restored, and others held together with spit and baling wire, have traveled for miles to get here “14 hours from Albuquerque at 35mph”. We watched one guy get towed in on a flatbed AAA wrecker, and jump out of the cab like he had won the Indy 500. Lotsa love here. Creativity abounds. I’ll close with photos. These folks are here for the weekend, and it’s gonna be a party!20180111_144410.jpg 20180111_144114.jpg20180111_123447.jpg20180111_121949.jpg20180111_115940.jpg20180111_121549.jpg20180111_144856.jpgPeace and love. We are off into the wilderness again tomorrow.

Water in the Desert

20180103_112924.jpgWhat a great week of camping we’ve had. It seems wrong that anyone could visit the Las Vegas area without making a trip to check out Hoover Dam. And for us, that means camping at Boulder Beach Campground, near Boulder City.  A view of Lake Mead, a bike path that eventually goes directly to Hoover Dam, and (generally) peaceful rustic camping make this a great spot to hole up for a few days.20180103_102104.jpgHoover Dam is a real international tourist attraction – at least half of the folks there were non-English speakers. All come to gape at the marvel of the Dam, which is more than 80 years old. It’s hard to believe that this was all engineered and constructed in the pre-computer era. This photo taken from the Tillman Bridge (shown in the shadow).20180103_1323201509468320.jpg20180103_121124.jpgA construction model in the Visitor Center shows how it’s made of enormous concrete blocks. 20180103_124043.jpgAt the base, it’s 660 feet thick, tapering to just 45 feet at the top, which is 726 feet high. More than 3.25 million cubic yards of concrete, made onsite, were used in its construction. And perhaps, most astonishing, it was completed under budget and two years ahead of schedule. It’s an absolute marvel of engineering. As you walk across thee top, you actually cross from Pacific Time into Mountain Time. Two states!

One of the things we really love about this site though, is the bike ride from the campground into the Dam, via the bike trail that connects to the Historic Railroad Trail. 20180103_140747.jpgBuilt in the 1930s, it features six gigantic tunnels, blasted through solid rock, used by the trains which carried supplies and equipment to the massive construction site. Although the tracks have long been removed, the tunnels are just rough rock sides (although one has been reinforced with timber, as shown in the above photo). 20180103_112924.jpgIt gradually climbs, winding around great views of Lake Mead, until it deposits us near the top of the parking garage, where a couple of bike racks are conveniently located. Uphill all the way to the dam, and a wonderful downhill ride all the way home. It doesn’t get any better than this. Experiences like this are what keep us on the road. We love being able to cycle our way around new places and see sights that just are nothing like Michigan. It’s a big country, and we haven’t even begun yet to scratch the surface of all the spots we’d like to see.

The Lake Mead Recreation Area is dotted with marinas and campgrounds on the western shore. Since we enjoyed Calllville Bay and Boulder Beach so much, we decided to try Cottonwood Cove, a new one (to us) farther south on Lake Mojave. Want solitude? This is your place!20180105_072216.jpg img_1065Two loops have about 120+ campsites, but only three were occupied. The marina was quiet, the Lake itself was deserted, with the exception of one kayak.20180105_202111.jpg There wasn’t a sound at night, other than the guy across the campground, playing some of my favorite 60s songs on his guitar and harmonica (Ghost Riders and The Boxer were two of my favorites).  Although it seems that this campground would be an inferno in the summer heat, it was the perfect stop for us in early January. It’s 15 miles from anywhere (uphill all the way to the town of Searchlight), so we just wandered around a bit on foot, cooked great food, and buried our noses in good books. I feel a bit guilty sometimes about being so lazy, but then I figure “So what? I’m old. This is what that’s all about.” I’m actually getting pretty good at doing absolutely nothing for a day or two at a time.

But, civilization calls. We have no more coffee, and no clean clothes. It’s time to move on. So, we booked six nights of camping at Lake Havasu State Park, where we have electric/water onsite, brewpubs and restaurants, and WiFi at the laundromat (guess where I am?) Going from one of the quietest campgrounds we’ve ever visited to Lake Havasu is shocking. It’s like being camped at a dragstrip, with the highway nearby. And, there are many huge powerboats on the Lake, each roaring by full-throttle. Today is Sunday, and there’s an exodous out of the campground. We’re hoping for a quiet day or two before it fills up again.

Feast or famine, I guess.

 

Moving On

After a week of driveway camping, eating too much, drinking too much, and just generally hanging around with family, it was time to move on after Christmas. But not too far. We decided that a return visit to Valley of Fire State Park was in order, as we knew it would get us moving – hiking and biking after a week where exercise was non-existent.

Good fortune was on our side, as we lucked into what is probably the best campsite in the Park, nestled into the sandy red soil beneath the giant rock we affectionately called The Poodle.20171229_155230179151433.jpg Our site was deep, and surrounded by high red walls. It was perfect. 20171230_092734612134748.jpgThis campground is a delight, especially for kids (of all ages), as the rough red rocks are tailor-made for scrambling about. In every crevice there’s somebody nosing around, waving to people on the ground while hollering at someone on the next rock over. It’s a great spot.

I’ll just post a few photos from our four days there, as we wandered around the trails. 20171229_1242361898826488.jpg20171230_104112164286959.jpg20171230_170624374818339.jpgSome of the clearest, most pristine petroglyphs we have encountered anywhere are in this Park.20180101_193837587276156.jpg But, the best treat came on our third day, when we had special visitors.

Valley of Fire is located at the very NW end of the Lake Mead Recreation area, which protects the Hoover Dam watershed. When the Lake was initially filled, the little town of St. Thomas was flooded. Now that the water levels are near historic lows, this ghost town is above water again. So, we decided to explore.

St. Thomas has an interesting history. It was originally settled by Mormons, who thought they were still inside the Utah border. Nope. After several years, Nevada officials found the settlement, and demanded payment of three years of back taxes. The settlers refused, and returned to Salt Lake City, after burning their crops and homes to the ground. In the 1880s, new settlers arrived, and the town reached a population of about 500 before being abandoned in the 1930s. The last homeowner left in a rowboat in 1938, as the Lake waters were lapping at his doorstep.

It’s a curious place. There are still a few foundations that are mostly intact, and wooden fenceposts from long-gone trees are still lined up along borders that are now filled with scrub. 20171231_1106501504321873.jpg20171231_1100511069464526.jpgI’m amazed that they are still solid after years of being submerged. Cisterns, many so deep that I couldn’t see the bottom, have been covered with rebar to keep anyone from falling in. The tall structure is the remains of the ice cream parlor.

It’s unfathomable to me that this was all covered up by more than 60 feet of water at one time. There’s no part of the Lake within several miles of this site anymore and it sure doesn’t seem likely that Lake Mead will ever have this much water in it again. (It has now been about 120 days since the last rainfall in Las Vegas). Lots to ponder.

The Lake Mead Recreation Area is dotted with campgrounds and marinas along the shoreline, and we decided to search out a new one for a night’s stay. So, here we are at Callville Bay, a gorgeous, sparsely populated campground. Like many other spots here, the bottom of the original boat ramp now ends far from the edge of the Lake.20180101_122501574909932.jpgIt’s a pleasant place to hang out for a day, with a few scrabbly trails to wander.20180101_140252421434952.jpgDid anyone see the Supermoon last night? By the time it was high enough to see over the hills, it wasn’t so super any more, but still bright enough to keep the campground well-lit last night. My cell phone camera sure isn’t up to the task of a good photo, but I’ll close with this, anyway.20180101_170237966171379.jpg