Thursday, April 19, 2018

RV-Dreams Boondocking Rally

RV Dreams Rally

We had an easy drive from Phoenix to Quartzsite on a beautiful sunny day. Even the traffic on I-10 was light and breezy as we rolled through town. Our destination was La Paz Valley Campground located a few miles south of Quartzsite.

The busy season in Quartzsite had long passed, but we were going there to attend the 2018 RV-Dreams Boondocking Rally. Though we know a ton of RV-Dreamers, we've never actually attended one of their rallies so we figured this would be a good one for us.

We booked five days at La Paz because we wanted full hookups in order to catch up on laundry and other chores before heading out into the desert. Our friends Bill & Jodee were at another park in town, but they came to visit and together we took a trip to the infamous Desert Bar just outside Parker, AZ. This place is quite a trip and lucky for us we went as passengers in Bill & Jodee's Jeep. It's a long, rough and dusty trip out to the middle of nowhere to arrive at the hoppin' Desert Bar. Run strictly off of solar, there's live music, alcoholic beverages and a ton of great food options. It's a commitment to visit this place, but definitely worth it!

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Our campsite at La Paz. With full hookups we prepared for our upcoming boondocking week.

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Rock and Roll at the Desert Bar.

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The Desert Bar was packed when we got there!

The following day Bill & Kelly arrived at La Paz and for the next few days we all prepared to boondock in the desert for a week.

On the first day of the rally, we had a whopping 16 miles to drive from La Paz Valley RV Park to the site of the RV-Dreams Boondocking Rally. They were expecting 40 rigs, so we wanted to get there early enough to get a good spot, but we also wanted to prepare by finishing up our laundry, emptying our holding tanks and taking on fresh water.

Overall, one week of boondocking isn't too much of a challenge for us, in that we don't really have to employ all the usual conservation tricks. Scoopy has good-sized fresh water and holding tanks, so we're fairly self-sufficient for a while. It's when we know we'll be out for 12-14 days that we really buckle down and conserve.

Around 10:15 a.m. we headed to the rally in a convoy, with new friends Pat & Bridget in the lead, Bill & Kelly in the middle and us bringing up the rear. We found the location easily and just parked up, one, two, three! As more rigs arrived later in the day, there were fewer prime spots to be had, so we were lucky to get here at the perfect time. Scoopy is kind of front and center to all the activities, the most important of which is the food tables. :)

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The caravan on the way to the Boondocking Rally!

We watched as more rigs arrived and began forming a giant oval. Most of the motorhomes are across from us, but we parked with the 5th wheels. We wanted to be parked next to Bill & Kelly, but we also didn't want the evening sun beating in our front windshield.

As people arrived and got set up, some began working around our little camp in the desert. Rocks were gathered and three huge fire pits were made. We didn't really do anything and later I wondered if this was like Survivor, where Steven and I might be voted off the desert island because we are lazy. But we just laid low and hoped we'd be allowed to stay. So far, so good!

Howard and Linda provided a dinner of hamburgers and hotdogs, as well as cake for desert. As dinner was being prepared by volunteers, folks gathered around the fire pits in anticipation of full stomachs and a roaring fire to close out the first day of the rally. I was exhausted. Even though I was wearing sunscreen, I felt a little charred. I think it might have been the wind, but in any case, I fell into my bed and slept like a baby!

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It didn’t take long for the circle to start forming around the firepit!

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I’m sure this cute cake didn’t last long although we didn’t partake.

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Linda and Kelly flipping burgers for our first gathering.

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Every night the circle got bigger and bigger around the campfire. Gorgeous sunsets too!

On day two, at 10:00 a.m. there was a great turnout for the seminar "Tank Management". It's always a hot topic because we're all looking for that one little tidbit that we haven't heard before that's gonna be a game-changer in our boondocking lives. There was lots of poop talk, we all have stories and ideas and methods to share. For us, the black and grey water holding tanks are not really a limiting factor while boondocking. The first thing that happens is we run out of fresh water. A couple of years ago when we stayed out in the SoCal desert , we managed to stretch our fresh water to 15 days. That was just a challenge we put on ourselves, there were plenty of places we could go to dump and take on fresh water, which we eventually did. It was fun for us to see how far we could push our systems, and ourselves, but in general we don't really need or want to go too long in the wilds. If we're planning to return to the same spot, we usually leave Toadie Hopper in charge of security.

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The seminars were informal and educational, even to the more experienced boondockers.

The Boondocking Rally is really for those who want to learn how to do it and what equipment is necessary, or preferable, in order to do it successfully. As it turned out, though, at least half of the attendees were newbies and the other half were experienced boondockers. It was fun to share ideas and methods of things that work for us. Howard and Linda offered personal one-on-one time for those who needed assistance learning their systems, as well as gaining advice on what equipment they might need moving forward if boondocking is in their future.

Aside from that, it was a week of social gatherings. Plans were made for a couple of potlucks and a breakfast during the week, so Kelly, Jodee and I made a run to the Walmart in Parker.  Later in the afternoon Linda Payne did a T-Shirt braiding class and I finally got a braided T-Shirt. I used a T-shirt I bought on the east coast specifically for this purpose. It became pretty clear to me that I would only have the one, because I will never remember how to do it on my own, plus I needed help finishing the only one I did. Jodee had to make the last final stitches so it would hold together. I haven't worn it yet, but I will one of these days. If it falls apart at the stiches, she doesn't want to hear about it. I don't blame her.

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T-shirt braiding. Could it be in Linda’s future?? (No.)

We have never attended a big rally potluck and it didn't take long for Steven and me to realize we were woefully under prepared. Not with regard to food, we had enough to feed an army. I mean with regard to feeding ourselves. We had to bring our own plates and eating utensils and all we had were flimsy salad-sized paper plates. Rookies! Others, who had obviously been to many potlucks before, came prepared with sturdy trays and chairs with tables attached. Huh. I still have a lot to learn after all these years.

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Harry and Vicky show us how it’s done with their sturdy trays!

One morning started with Breakfast for 80. There were several stations set up for sausage, eggs and pancakes. There were a lot of happy campers. For the first potluck we offered up a Greek salad, and for the second we made up about four dozen smoked brisket sliders with spicy jalepeno coleslaw. Doesn't that sound fab? They were pretty yummy, but labor-intensive. Again, I've got a lot to learn about potlucks!

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A breakfast feast for 80!

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The sliders took a lot of preparation but were a big hit at the potluck!

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Potlucks are taken very seriously at these rallies!

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Steven frollicks on Scoopy’s roof while Bill gets down to some serious solar installation.

There were a couple of field trips on offer, one to a gold mine and another to the Desert Bar. Since we had already been there, Steven and I, along with Kelly, Bill and Jodee opted for a day trip to Mexico. Arrriba! The first thing we did was find tacos and margaritas. Wow, they were so good! Then we roamed the streets looking for drugs and tequila. I managed to find some Ibuprophen, blood pressure medication and a Z-Pac, and Steven found a bottle of tequila. Since it was getting close to my birthday, he also bought me a fabulous Prada handbag. We call it "Frada", since it's fake, but I love it anyway. All-in-all, we had a fabulous day across the border!

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Steven went  with the group to visit the Gold Eye Mine. As an aside, who knew potties make great flower pots??

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Mexico was a blast! Alcohol, drugs, knockoffs, oh my!!

Steven, of course, was busy taking photographs and shooting video during our week in Quartzsite. You can take a look at a little movie he put together of the event here: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x6gqbhl

We had a wonderful week at the rally. It was fun to see folks we knew and wonderful to meet others. It was a great group, and while we didn't learn much about boondocking, we certainly learned that we need to up our game with regard to rally potlucks! We're working on that!

NEXT UP:  More boondocking in SoCal 

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Catching Up with Arizona Friends

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We left Alamogordo on a beautiful sunny day and planned to travel to Willcox, AZ for a quick overnight before heading into Tucson to stay at Tra-Tel RV Park. When we called about staying overnight at the SKP park and found out they had no FHU spots for us due to an ongoing construction project, we opted to continue our journey and arrive in Tucson a day early. A quick call to Tra-Tel ensured we could arrive a day early, and we were on our way!

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Our campsite in Tra-Tel RV Park in Tucson.

Tucson is one of those places RVers pass through all the time when heading west. It is right on Interstate 10 which is far enough south that snow and cold weather are rarely an issue and it's the perfect stopover for shopping and repairs. It's on our path to and from the ranch when we're staying in the west, but even if it weren't, we'd go out of our way to be there anyway. That's because our main goal in Tucson is to spend time with our dear friends Fred & Jo Wishnie.

As RVers tend to do, we "met" them through their travel blog, Wandering Wishnies, nearly a decade ago. They were fulltime RVers when we were still in the big ass house on Pine Lake (The BAH) dreaming of the day we could hit the road. In 2011, along with Laurie and Odel (from whom we adopted Scoopy!) and Margaret Wright, we finally met in person as they traveled to the Seattle area where we spent a very fun week together. Our fulltiming paths crossed only once. We spent two weeks with them at Usery Mountain State Park in Mesa, Arizona shortly after we hit the road in 2014. A few weeks later, after nine years on the road, Fred and Jo called it good and settled down in Tucson. Gee, was it something we said?? :)

We only had four nights in Tucson, but since we arrived a day early, I managed to get most of the shopping done the first day. With a couple of upcoming rallies, I wanted to hit Costco and Trader Joe's before heading out into the desert. With our time now free from chores, the Wishnies came over for Happy Hour and we made plans for the next couple of days, which included happy hour, two dinners out, two photography exhibits, a brewery, and Coq au Vin at the Wishnie's home. Here we got to hang with all four members of their pack, Boo Boo, Mimi, Coco and Monkey. Both Fred and Jo volunteer at the PIMA County Animal Shelter helping to find homes for dogs and cats, and they can't help but bring a few home for themselves. Since arriving in Tucson they have adopted three of their four dogs, but they swear that's their limit. We shall see. UPDATE: Number 5 just arrived – hi Lola! :)

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Jo in a cuddle puddle with the pack.        Fred makes his world famous Manhattans.

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Fred and Linda walking and chatting in downtown Tucson

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Having drinks at Pueblo Vida Brewing Company in downtown Tucson.

During our stay in Tucson, Steven took time out for a photography trip to the San Xavier del Bac Mission. He was inspired to try to emulate yet another Ansel Adams photograph (you may remember he did that in Big Bend also). Although a big ugly cactus has since taken root, things have not changed all that much and he was quite pleased to get close to the original photo :)

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Steven on the top and Ansel on the bottom. Not much has changed!

As always, we very much enjoyed our time in Tucson with our good friends, but we had to go. Our next stop, Phoenix, had but one purpose: spend time with my BFF Cindy and her family.

Cindy and I have known each other since 7th grade, when we attended the Oil Companies School in Tripoli, Libya. As sophomores we headed off to boarding school in Lugano, Switzerland where three years later we graduated and went our separate ways in the states. A few years later both of us ended up back in Libya, working and generally having a blast. When our American hostages were taken in Iran, we were evacuated out of Libya and eventually both landed in Anchorage, Alaska. As young adults we married and lived in the Dallas area, where we had our children during the same time in our lives. 

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Linda and Cindy back in the day.

I mean, I could go on and on, but the point of all this is that, as BFFs, we have been though so much together and have lifelong experiences that are still meaningful to us. It's always wonderful to spend time together.

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Hanging out with Cindy at Papago Park in Tucson.

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On the way up to Hole in the Rock. Once up there, we had fabulous views.

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Chris, Carissa, Cindy and Connor.

For our two-night stay in Phoenix, we decided to boondock in the parking lot at the Wild Horse Pass Casino, which is only five miles from Cindy's house. We rolled up and found about a dozen other RVs parked up, a couple of them with grills, chairs, awnings, etc. Essentially they were fully deployed. Great, we thought! So convenient! And for our first 24 hours it was. No sooner had we returned from a day of touring when then came the dreaded knock on the door with police officers instructing us to move on. Apparently, our space was not even a part of the casino, which was news to us! Turns out the casino RV parking is across the street and it is literally parking lanes. There will be no Full Monty deployment here, we were lucky to be able to open our front door! But really, we didn't mind. We were only here one more night and being close to Cindy is what mattered most.

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We had plenty of space at the “unofficial” parking spot.

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Not so much at the actual casino parking area. Scoopy could hardly breathe!

We packed in a lot of stuff in our short visit in Phoenix. It was so good to be able to visit with Cindy and Chris and their kids, Connor and Carissa. Until next time!

NEXT UP:  Quartzsite & Boondocking Rally

Sunday, March 18, 2018

White Sands National Monument

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Our recent visit to Big Bend National Park was a completely new adventure for me but there was another place I was also looking forward to seeing. This time it was for a return visit to White Sands in New Mexico.

Even though it's nice to see friends and socialize along our travels, I'm really an introvert at heart and I do my recharging in my own space. When I visit places like White Sands, I get exactly what I need: solitude and magnificent views.

Last time I was there, I almost got lost. I kept walking and walking deeper into the dunes and not keeping track of my movements. Before I knew it, I was completely disoriented. Luckily, there was a cell signal so I was able to navigate my way back to my car using my phone GPS. Whew!

Since then, I've been using an app for my iPhone called "Where's My Car?". It's perfect for people who are directionally-challenged like myself. When I get out of my car, I launch the app and it creates a pin of where I am. I can then use it later to find my parking spot. It gives a live readout of how far away I am and what direction I need to go. It has really worked well for me and I used it each time I trekked out across the dunes

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This iPhone app is a literal lifesaver for me.

To really embrace this sandy landscape, you have to be conscious of how the angle of the sun affects its mood. When the clouds roll in, the desert looks looks like one long continuous blob of white. When the sun appears, it transforms the space into long shadows, three-dimensional hills of pure white sand and reveals intricate patterns created by the wind.

During our entire time there, I found myself chasing the light. Most of the time it was cloud covered with only tiny glimpses of the sun. We stayed at the Elks Lodge in Alamogordo which is less than half an hour to the entrance of White Sands and , because we were so close, I was able to keep an eye on the weather and be there for sunrises and sunsets.

White Sands National Monument - February 2018
Looking out at the sunset over White Sands from the Elks Lodge.

As beautiful as the dunes can be in color, I found myself drawn mostly to a black and white interpretation because to me, White Sands is all about form, light and texture. These are the perfect ingredients for black and white photography. There are always exceptions, of course, and those occurred mainly during the sunrise and sunset when color just exploded in the sky.

White Sands National Monument - February 2018

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The moods of sunrise and sunset were different with every visit.

It's hard for me to focus on any kind of "real life" thing when I'm in Alamogordo. I'm kind of obsessed with the sky, watching the sun, watching the clouds. Planning to go or not go...will there be a dramatic sunset or not?? Mostly I just went and whatever the weather, being there was just magical anyway.

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White Sands National Monument - February 2018

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White Sands National Monument - February 2018

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White Sands National Monument - February 2018

White Sands National Monument - February 2018
Dramatic light and shadows make White Sands an absolute treat to photograph.

During our stay, we also took a trip to Ruidoso where we used to co-own a house with Linda’s parents. We’d spend the Christmas holidays there with family every year. It's always fun to revisit and see what's different and what's the same. Mostly very little changes.

We both love New Mexico and especially this little corner of the state. There's just something special about being there. Maybe it's White Sands, maybe it's the culture, particularly the Mexican influence. Whatever it is, we keep coming back and we are never disappointed.

Up next: Meeting up with friends in Arizona