Thursday, January 26, 2017

Plans Sometimes Change ... For the Better

Wouldn't it be cool to have an instrument ... kind of like binoculars ... that would allow us to look into the future? That's what we needed last week when we were trying to decide whether to try our our first "boondocking" experience at Quartzsite, Arizona. For those of you unfamiliar with the Quartzsite ... or boondocking in general, let me explain.

Quartzsite, Arizona is pretty much in the middle of nowhere. The desert that surrounds the little town has a lot of land that is Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land ... ie: government-owned land. What this means is that anyone can "camp out" on the land free of charge ... but also without the "luxuries" of electricity, water, and a dump station ... ie: dry camping. Every January hundreds of thousands of RVers conviene in the Quartzite desert for fellowship, fun and free camping. Think of it as a "Stergis" for RVers.

Guess I should be happy that Doug's retirement plan didn't include buying a motorcycle!

Doug has followed the blogs of several full-time RVers for whom boondocking is a way of life. We were both intrigued to go to Quartzsite and learn from the best. But the weather forecast did not seem to agree with our plan to enjoy the great desert outdoors. Arizona was under a winter storm warning ... rain, wind and cold. OK, it is not quite as extreme as our Minnesotan friends who are dealing with 12 inches of new snow, but it didn't seem to be the ideal circumstances for hanging out in the desert without electricity.

So, since our plans can be "written in Jello", we made the decision to head to Picacho Peak State Park ... desert with benefits! The unique mountain peak halfway between Tucson and Phoenix holds the historical distinction of being the westernmost site of a Civil War battle. The battle of Picacho Pass was fought in 1862 ... click on this link for your daily dose of nerdly history!

The state park offered spacious sites, beautiful mountain views and plenty of great hiking. Those super-adventurous types can attempt the climb to the peak. Thanks, but no thanks!

The rain days were spent getting caught up on things around "home" and taking a trip into northern Tucson for a brewery tour.

Another coaster for Doug's collection ... Score!

We ended up realizing that our change of plans was a change for the better. We got to spend time discovering more desert beauty ... especially on the ocotillos with their delicate orange blooms that emerged after the rains.

And we were also blessed to meet some new friends, Dan and Nan, and learn a thing or two from their RV lifestyle. They, like us, retired, sold their house and most of their belongings and hit the road 18 months ago. The big difference is that they are living in their 20 foot campervan ... and loving it! As we hiked together and later during our campfire, we shared travel and life stories. They filled me with a desire to simplify my belongings even more ... and made me appreciate all the special friendships that develop during RVentures.

As Nan so eloquently summed up our conversation in an email this week: "How important it is for our Spirit to have "Sisters", who love, inspire, challenge, and encourage us. Our men are a necessity, but we NEED our girlfriends!!"

Doug and I both couldn't agree more! Yes, it is good that plans sometimes change ... For the better!

Until next time ... appreciate the better plans that come your way ... and enjoy the adventures in your life!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Fun in the Tucson Sun

A year ago while hiking through a Florida state park, we struck up a conversation with some fellow RV travelers. During our walk and later around the campfire, we discovered many common interests including hiking, biking, and just enjoying the great outdoors. What a joy to be able to stay in touch, and to have our travel paths cross again in Arizona. Our month long stay at Rincon Country East RV Resort (our first 55+ RV park) with Joanne and Gary proved that even us "old folks" can have great fun in the Tucson sun!

The palm trees accentuate the pristine surroundings of Rincon's common areas and large RV sites. Their common area housed the pool, hot tub, billiards tables, exercise room, laundry, wood shop, sewing room, library and large auditorium. After studying the activity calendar, we realized that we could fill our time with just about any special interest imaginable. We decided to check out Wednesday morning's "free" donuts gathering in hopes of finding out about all the activities and meeting some of the other winter visitors. But after sitting through a hour of "announcements", we decided that we would just fill up on Chris' homemade bread and create our own fun.

And fun we found ... on the pickleball court! Since none of us had played before, we read, discussed and over-analyzed the rules. Thankfully, a friendly gent came along and taught us the game. After a few practice games and a "private" serving lesson from Doug, I was was able to join in with these "pros".

We spent many afternoons honing our skills and sharing a lot of laughs ... and probably thoroughly irritating the "serious" group of bocci ball pros in the court behind us. 

We found more fun on our bikes exploring the area surrounding the Air Force base ...

... and finding a brewery or two! Doug wasn't overly impressed by the local craft beers, but that just means that he gets to continue his search for the perfect IPA.

But we were successful in bringing Joanne and Gary over to the "dark side" of biking as we equipped our bikes with lights and enjoyed a night ride to one of our favorite hangouts, The Arizona Beer House. With 33 local brews on tap, free popcorn and tasty food truck selections, there was something for everyone!

Hanging out in the resort's billiard room was also a great way to spend the evenings,

... but, like pickleball, I am going to need A LOT MORE PRACTICE before I hit the professional circuit. 

Rincon sponsored many trips to local attractions, so one morning I got on their free bus to explore the Tucson Museum of Art. Since wandering aimlessly through artsy-type stuff is not Doug's favorite activity, he was happy to work on some RV projects ...

... while I soaked in some "culture". Among my favorites: 

"El Nacimiento", an elaborate diorama of the birth and life of Christ featuring thousands of ornate figurines,

"Adam", Auguste Rodin's larger than life sculpture of the first man,

... and his eloquent "Young Mother in the Grotto" sculpture,

and the many paintings reflecting the colorful beauty of the southwest which helped me further appreciate the charm of our current surroundings.

Yes, during our month in Tucson, we appreciated hanging out with our hiking buddies ... 

... and happy hour companions.

Knowing that we would soon be going our separate ways, we decided to grab our favorite fellows ...

... and hop on the stagecoach to enjoy an evening at the Gaslight Theater.

Their current production, "The Two Amigos" was an entertaining way to celebrate the good times that happen ... 

... when four amigos enjoy laughter and fun in the Tucson sun!

Until next time ... soak up some fun with a friend ... and enjoy the adventures in your life!

A picture of Doug taking a picture ...
... of  Joanne taking a picture!

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Desert's Amazing Beauty

I don't see the desert as barren at all;
I see it as full and ripe.
It doesn't need to be flattered with rain.
It certainly needs rain, but it does with what it has,
and creates amazing beauty!
Joy Harjo

Currently, we are "enjoying" a rare rainy day in the Tucson desert. In an area that gets less than 12 inches of rain a year, I can imagine that the cacti are "high-fiving" each other with joy today as they fervently soak up every drop of water!

As we near the end of our month in Tucson, we both are surprised by how much we have enjoyed the desert around us. During our hikes in the surrounding area we have learned to appreciate the unique allure of the desert.  Our treks through Saguaro National Park, Sabino Canyon, and Mount Lemmon have revealed to us the desert's amazing beauty.

Saguaro National Park

A hike along the Tanque Verde Ridge Trail lead us upward towards Mica Mountain where the cacti grow harmoniously among the beautiful rock and boulder formations. 

The colors, textures, and shapes of the flora accentuated the amazing beauty of the desert around us. 

After our upward climb we enjoyed the "forest" of saguaros,

... along with a magnificent view of the sunset,

... and colorful reflections on the surrounding mountains.

Sabino Canyon

We had the pleasure of meeting up with some Habitat friends for a day of hiking at Sabino Canyon located in the Coronado National Forest. We met at the Visitor's Center and bought our tickets for the tram which took us four miles up the road and into the canyon. The 45 minute narrated ride gave us a good overview of the history and the natural features of the canyon.

There are nine stops along the tram route that allowed us to see different parts of the canyon. We got off at the final stop and found the Telephone Line Trail that lead us up the mountain

... for some magnificent views 

... as well as fun conversations and group photo opportunities.

The trail then lead us back down to the canyon road so we could enjoy the scenery alongside Sabino Creek.

At a few points, we were challenged to cross the road without getting our feet too wet. Once again the water, the rocks and the cacti combined to create amazing beauty.

Mount Lemmon

We picked a beautiful clear day to take a drive up to the highest point in the Tucson area, Mount Lemmon. Our friend Gary offered to drive, so Doug was able to "ride shotgun" and photograph some of the beauty during the 29 mile ride up the mountain.

Our journey started out in the desert, but the scenery started to change as we ascended up the curvy Mount Lemmon Highway.

Interesting rock formations called hoodoos

... and breath-taking views greeted us at every lookout point.

Gary reassured us that he was a better driver than this poor soul who has been hanging out on the canyon floor for a number of years!

The cooler temps and greater abundance of water not only created
elegant mountain waterfalls,

... but also gave the area a more "northern" feel with the appearance of pine trees,

... and a little snow along the road.

Cycling up and cruising down Mount Lemmon Highway is one of the "epic" experiences for avid bicyclists. The 7000 ft ascent with a 4.3% average grade qualifies this as one of the toughest top 100 US bicycle climbs.

We were glad that we found these biker's energy source at the top of Mount Lemmon. The Cookie Cabin's  warm, gooey, and HUGE chocolate chip cookies would be the perfect "I biked up Mount Lemmon" reward! It could also be (just a tad bit) guilt-provoking but just as delicious if you drove up!

We completed our trip to the top of Mount Lemmon with a visit to their ski area. Unfortunately, the bright sun and 40 degree temps were not helping the snow conditions. One of their employees told us that they are still hoping for some decent snow so that they can open the slopes. Their "typical" ski season is usually about four weeks long.

While we could have paid $12 to take the ski lift up to the summit of the mountain, we opted for the 1.5 mile hike along the snow-lined road ... after all, we had that GIANT cookie fueling us!

And as usual, the view at the top did not disappoint!

Until next time ... delight in the amazing beauty around you ... and enjoy the adventures in your life!