A New Trailer

April 2018

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We were lucky enough to see this cactus bloom on our last day in Palm Creek. The huge blooms last only a day.

While we were in Palm Creek we spent a lot of time thinking about our trailer. It is easy to get RV envy when you’re in a park filled with all kinds of fancy motorhomes…

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and after a year and a half on the road we had a few wishes. One, for a comfortable seating option. Our “sofa” is little more than foam cushions on plywood and after a while your butt is hurting and you can’t get comfortable. Also our propane furnace, like most RVs, uses forced air which is not very consistent. Either you’re hot while it’s blasting or you’re cold when it cycles off and it’s noisy. So we started looking at other options with the same quality we were used to in our Airstream. We even drove up to Phoenix to check out several motorhomes, but in the end we decided that none of them gave us the feel of our Airstream. Plus we knew a Class A would fundamentally change the way we travel and we didn’t want that. So we opted for another Airstream, a 30’ Classic. 

This one, a step up for our current model, has a real couch with recliners and even the dinette has real furniture with springs in the cushions. The biggie is that it has a radiant heating system that makes no noise but keeps the trailer at a consistent temperature. After a couple of visits to Airstream of Scottsdale, we settled on the model and color scheme we wanted, but they didn’t have it in stock. Alas, a quick internet search revealed that our old friends Airstream Adventures NW had the exact trailer we wanted. 

So this meant that once again we headed north in wet, cold April (why do we do this to ourselves?!!). Since this trip was about making time I made it easy for us and booked our stops in advance, making sure that the sites were long enough to stay hitched up. 

First stop outside Barstow made for a long driving day, nearly 8 hours. 

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Soon after we pulled in the sun was setting.

After another long day we arrived outside Sacramento to find a bunch of Airstreams at the RV park in Lodi. Turns out there was an Airstream rally starting the next day. In true Airstreamer fashion we were invited to join them and given a lovely jar of homemade jam. Yum! 

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Wow, our trailer looks really long from this angle, and no it doesn’t have any dents, just weird reflections. 

I made sure our driving days progressively got shorter figuring we would grow weary of the long travel days. We stopped on the California-Oregon border and were the only ones in the campground. 

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Our riverfront site was peaceful.

Outside Salem Oregon we stayed at Champoeg State Park, a nice change of pace from the RV parks we’d been in. Last stop was Kanaskat-Palmer State Park, 20 miles from our final destination. We arrived to sunshine and nearly 70 degrees so I took a walk down by the Green River to enjoy it. Good thing because the next day it started raining. Not just a little rain, a huge dumping. Welcome to Seattle!

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Back in the wet Northwest.

Thankfully Airstream Adventures put us under their awning so we could move our belongings without getting wet. They lined us up old door to new door which made it easy to move our belongings. While I was moving things, Chuck was working on the huge task of moving our ProPride (Hensley style) hitch. It took hours. 

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Old trailer on the left, brand spanking new one on the right.

We spent our first night in the new trailer under the canopy. While we didn’t have to listen to the rain pounding down on the trailer we did have the freeway sounds and the lights. Thank goodness for those new blackout shades. 

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Our site at Lake Pleasant.

After getting everything moved we headed to Lake Pleasant RV Park. With not many camping options close to Seattle this one is very convenient, being about a mile from our old house.

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The inside of the new trailer as viewed from the comfy couch.

As we worked on organizing the trailer, we crammed in lots of visits with friends and family but again we couldn’t believe we used to put up with all this grey, cold, wet weather not to mention the traffic and sheer number of people.

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There was still snow heading over the I-90 pass.

Next up we headed to Boise for sunshine and a visit with my sister and parents. We taught them Wizard, the game Bob and Mona hooked us on at Palm Creek, and soon they were hooked too. My mom couldn’t wait to play after dinner every evening. We enjoyed my Dad’s garden and fresh picked radishes.

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We even extended our stay a few days when I learned that my dad’s first softball game was coming up. At 80 years young he decided to join the senior softball league, playing on not just one but two teams. Go Flying Squirrels!

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That’s my dad #41 covering second base.

It was fun to watch my dad play after all those years of him watching his kids and grandkids play and a nice ending to our time with friends and family!

Palm Creek aka Pickleball Camp

Chuck read a blog by a couple who are are full-timing while looking for a RV casita to use as a winter base. One of the places they checked out was Palm Creek Golf and RV Resort in Casa Grande, just south of Phoenix. After reading their blog Chuck was itching to try it out and since we were feeling road weary we decided to book a whole month at Palm Creek. While it’s a more expensive option than we normally pick, we figured we wouldn’t be driving so our fuel savings would offset the more expensive camping fee, not that you can call this place camping. One night as a golf cart parade passed by our site we waved and the lady laughed and yelled out, “Our kids think we’re camping!” Yeah, there is no camping here.

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The best way to describe Palm Creek is a big summer camp for active retirees (albeit in the winter). Here you find folks happily engaging in every kind of activity you can imagine. There is golf, swimming, tennis, water volleyball, shuffleboard, lawn bowling and pickleball. Then there are the indoor activities like quilting, pottery, lapidary, silversmithing, stained glass, woodworking and more. Plus yoga, water aerobics, line dancing, cards, and a bunch of social clubs. They have dances and concerts and community parties in the park, like a car show and a hot air balloon glow.

 

 

Unlike other retiree parks we’ve stayed at, this one felt vibrant, even for us folks a bit under the average age. 🙂 Plus we got hooked on pickleball.

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Pickleball, what is that you say? Well, it in no way involves pickles. It’s kinda a mash-up of ping pong and tennis using a solid paddle, a plastic ball with holes (like a whiffle ball) and a smaller version of a tennis court. We arrived on Tuesday, took a beginner’s lesson on Thursday, started playing in organized round robins nearly every day and after two weeks we were down in the office extending our stay for an additional month. Seems that happens a lot around here.

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Our days pretty much looked like: get up, eat breakfast, lather up with sunscreen, go play pickleball, come back, eat lunch, shower, drink lots of water, and try to recoup before making dinner or joining friends for cocktails. People would ask “Have you been to see any of the sights?” and I’d respond “We’ve been to the grocery store.” Pretty much all we did was play, eat, sleep, and do laundry. But it was a nice change from our usual sightseeing and hiking and moving all the time. Who knew when we set out on this journey we would take up a new sport, the only one we’ve ever played together in our nearly 20 years, and have so much fun with it.

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After playing pickleball for only a month we played in the club’s members only tournament. My women’s partner was Mona, a 70 year young Canadian who is an inspiration to stay active. She and her husband, Bob, had more energy than either of us! We enjoyed getting to know them and hanging out together. They’re both a hoot and she races dragon boats!

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One other great thing about Palm Creek is that they have forged a connection with the local elementary school. This meant that I could, after waiting several weeks for my background check to clear, volunteer. Soon I was enjoying 2 days a week helping 6 year olds learn their ABCs (right up my alley since I taught K and 1st). It was exciting to be in a classroom again using my skills, but also eye opening. I realized how lucky I had been to teach in a highly regarded and supportive district and what a great job I’d done in my classroom even though I always felt like I should be doing more. Teaching is my calling but all the time and effort required definitely takes it’s toll and I don’t miss that. I was glad that I could enjoy the fun parts, like working with the kids, without all the other responsibilities of managing a classroom.

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In the end we stayed at Palm Creek for a full 3 months, January – March. This is by far the longest we’ve been in one spot since we left and it’s allowed us to make some deep social connections. Being introverts we aren’t great at socializing, but here it’s been easy. Part of that is because we’ve met people through a common activity, pickleball. It’s built in that you will see them several times a week if not daily and soon they invite you over for cocktails and then you’re inviting them over, and then they’re teaching you a new card game (try out Wizard if you haven’t). My daughter joked that my social life was busier than hers! All too soon we found it was the end of March and our friends were starting to head home and we were going to miss them. So guess what? We signed up to come back next year for more pickleball camp and fun times with friends!

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Back to the Desert

December 2017

On our way across Texas we stumbled upon the fanciest rest area we’ve encountered so far. It looked like a beautiful setting for a picnic although it was nearly empty.

After driving across Texas we found a spot in Las Cruces, NM to spend a few nights. It was right near the old town of Mesilla, which we explored one afternoon.

We enjoyed the colorful interior of La Posta as we ate lunch. Then we wandered into some shops and through the town square. The community Christmas tree was decorated with ornaments made by the local schoolchildren. Some of those popsicle stick designs looked familiar from our girls’ younger days. 🙂 Mesilla was such a cute little town! We definitely need to spend more time exploring New Mexico, but not now—it’s too cold in December!

Next we stopped at Lazydays KOA in Tucson. This is by far the nicest KOA we have ever seen. The free-for-the-picking citrus was too much to resist. We left with a giant bowl of oranges, lemons, and grapefruit.

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We put up decorations inside…
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…and decorated the outside with a motion laser that reflected off the shiny exterior.

Our holidays ended up being a repeat of last year. Seems I’m making new traditions by returning to favorite places. In my last post I told you about our return visit to Padre Island for Thanksgiving. We also returned to one of our favorite campgrounds, Gilbert Ray, for Christmas.

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Chuck finally got that silver tree he’s always wanted! 🙂
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He also got out his drone and took a few shots.
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Grilling up our Christmas dinner with a view.

And then we spent a fun filled New Year’s weekend with the 4CU Airstream Club at Picacho Peak again.

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Lots of beautiful sunsets in Arizona! Can you pick which Airstream is ours? Hint: look for the solar panels 🙂
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We got to peek inside this beautifully restored vintage Airstream.
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We tried our hand at giant Jenga.
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These folks know how to build a campfire!

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While this has been a repeat of last year, our next stop will definitely be something new– a whole month spent at an upscale RV Resort. But that’s for next time.

Trekking Through Texas

Mid-November – mid-December 2017

After our 4 days at Guadelupe/Carlsbad it was time to head all the way across Texas. Texas is humongous, which you don’t realize until you drive across it, and then you forget until you have to drive across it again. 🙂

We broke up the trek with a few stops. The first one was a return visit to Monahans Sandhills State Park. After an arduous drive that included potholed roads, long road construction delays, and tons of oilfield truck traffic we arrived to sun glinting off the dunes. Then the rain moved in to spoil any hopes of sand sledding, so it wasn’t as stunning as our last visit. Still I did get out for a nice walk around the dunes on our last day.

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Next we planned on staying at the SKP Park in Hondo TX, but when we arrived we found mayhem. They were repaving the internal roads so half the park was closed, including the dry camping, and they had crammed everyone into the other half so had no spots available. Wish they would have said something on their website, but luckily they pointed us to nearby Quiet RV Park, which was just that, and since they accepted Passport America we got half off our site. So in the end it actually worked out great for us. Plus we found a delicious local BBQ joint.

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Our site at Quiet RV Park backed up to farm fields.
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If you’re ever in Hondo TX try the BBQ turkey at Heavy’s!

Our last stop was Lake Corpus Christi State Park. We wanted a short drive to Padre Island, since sites are first come first serve and often fill up, so this park to the west of Corpus Christi fit the bill. Unfortunately it seemed more like a place for locals to come and party on the weekends or go fishing than a great place to camp. The sites and roads were crumbling and muddy from the recent and continuing rains.

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Hunting season so the deer are hiding out at the state park 🙂

I have to admit my gloomy mood matched the gloomy setting and our rainy 3 days here seemed to stretch on forever. But we were rewarded when we pulled into the campground at Padre Island and had our pick of several oceanfront spots. We choose the exact same spot we were in last year since we knew it afforded great ocean views right from our trailer.

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Looking back at our site from the dunes you can just see the solar panels raised to catch the winter sun.

Ahh, 2 weeks at the ocean. I could instantly feel my mood improving and my stress dissipating. Just like last year it felt like we were on vacation. I know that’s funny because most people look at our life and think we’re on vacation all the time. In reality there is a lot of time spent planning, maintaining the trailer, doing chores, and taking care of everyday life, but somehow when we hit the beach we feel relaxed. We take daily walks and observe the tides and just chill.

Each day the beach is a little different. This time on the day we arrived there was tons of sargassum seaweed, trash, and small man-o-war all washed up by a recent storm. Apparently the currents bring a lot of stuff from the south tip of Florida and the coast of Mexico up this way. Another day the beach was littered with jellyfish. We saw hardly any of the tiny seashells we had seen last year and even saw some different birds this time.

We made a daily habit of picking up a trash bag or two from the campground host and filling it. About 90% of what we picked up were toothbrushes, plastic bottles, parts of shoes, bottle lids, plastic bags and random pieces of brightly colored plastic. Many times the plastic was so brittle that it would shatter into tiny pieces when we tried to pick it up. I totally understand how they find sea animals whose stomachs are filled with plastic. Unfortunately these creatures mistake the plastic pieces for food. We even saw two seagulls fighting over a piece of brightly colored plastic. If you want to do one thing to help the environment, cut back on your use of plastic in any way that you can!

We drove down the island to Big Shell Beach. It is covered with shell fragments that have been tumbled in the waves. They look like broken pieces of pottery.

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Again we celebrated Thanksgiving with a feast prepared in our trailer. Turkey breast, green bean casserole, marshmallow sweet potatoes and squash cooked on the grill, biscuits cooked in the solar oven, and mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce and salad to round out the meal. Not bad at all.

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Thanksgiving dinner with a view!

After our relaxing “ beach vacation” we headed to Mission, Texas. Chuck has been searching for places with RV casitas. Basically this means a tiny house next to a parking pad for your RV. We figure this might be the next step for us. It would give us a break from the trailer and a place to spend the winter while our trailer served as a guest house for our visitors. One place that seemed to fit the bill was Retama Village. It’s down in the very tip of Texas just a stone’s throw from the Rio Grande.

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Our site next to a one bedroom casita.

Our first week there was glorious. The weather was in the 80s and the clubhouse and pool were beautiful. Our site was just across from some friendly Airstream folks who had us over for cocktails and conversation. They had recently purchased a casita and were kind enough to share their thought process and experiences.

We enjoyed a week of sunshine, dips in the pool, and butterflies everywhere (the area is on their migration path). What we didn’t find was an interesting town. Instead there was lots of sprawl and traffic and chain stores, but not an area with that interesting, vibrant small downtown feel. We did manage to find a cute little spot to enjoy my birthday dinner.

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And we visited the nearby National Butterfly Center.

At the end of the week we had a list of pros and cons, but were still on the fence.

Pros
own the land
stick built structure
hookups for RV
landscaping maintained by park
low cost of living
beautiful clubhouse/pool
butterflies

Cons
far from family
not a lot of organized activities
not an interesting town
traffic
bugs
humid

We decided we needed a little more time exploring before we could make a decision, so we moved to the adjoining Bentsen Palm RV Park.

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Here we discovered another con, the wild fluctuations in the weather.

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Waking up to 30 degrees and snow was quite a shock after the 80 degree weather of the week before! And it kinda tipped the balance for us. So after we waited out the cold front moving across south Texas we made the long trek back across this vast state to spend our winter in Arizona. But that’s a story for next time.

 

2 More National Parks!

November 2017

After a road weary fall, we decided to head to the Texas coast. We loved our stay there last year for Thanksgiving and two weeks at the National Seashore sounded like just the break we needed. We also wanted to check out some RV casitas we’ve been researching as an option for a winter base. Plus, there was a week of nice weather in the forecast. This meant we could hit up two more national parks, Guadelupe and Carlsbad, that we haven’t been able to visit because of their high elevation.

We arrived at Guadelupe Mountains National Park on November 3rd. The RV camping is basically spots in the parking lot so nothing special, but it put us right in the middle of the views. Guadelupe is a “desert meets mountains” sort of place so you have yucca and cactus alongside juniper and pine.

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You can see our shiny trailer parked in the “camping” area.

This parking lot was also the major trailhead so we saw a lot of backpackers getting their permits and heading out for multi-night treks. As the weather turned chillier and stormier over the weekend we were glad to be snug in our trailer!

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Lucky for us we picked a beautiful morning to hike to Devil’s Hall. Being in the desert we’ve missed out on fall colors so it was a treat to see so much beautiful color on the trees along the way.

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Before you get to Devil’s Hall You have to navigate the Devil’s Staircase.

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I’m about half way up it here. It was even trickier coming back down.  🙂 The hall is a narrow passage between two cliffs of layered stone. It was pretty cool.

The color was just as amazing on our way back.

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We also visited a couple of sights in the park. There are ruins of a Butterfield Overland Mail Stagecoach Stop, the highest on the route at 5,534 feet. Butterfield was the first transcontinental mail service. The coaches ran round the clock, covering the 2800 miles in 25 days or less. The stations were important to provide food and fresh horses.

We walked around the Frijole Ranch. The buildings weren’t open the day we were there, but we peered in the windows. The red building was once the schoolhouse. They also had an amazing spring-fed irrigation system that watered an orchard.

Guadelupe and Carlsbad are about 45 miles apart so we could have driven to the caverns, but we opted to move our trailer to a boondocking spot closer to the park.

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By now you should know that caves are not really my thing, but I have to say Carlsbad blew me away. I had researched the options and found you could hike through the Natural Opening and down into the cave at your own pace. It didn’t look like there were any tight spaces so I thought I’d be fine and I was.

Turns out I was too enthralled by all the cool cave formations to feel claustrophobic, plus the rooms are huge!

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Every turn brought another amazing view.

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Often times it felt like we were on the set of Star Trek landing on a distant planet.

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After walking the paved trail from the Natural Entrance, you end up 800 feet below the surface in the Big Room, which has a 1.25 mile loop trail.

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This room is gigantic, the size of 14 football fields, and filled with formations.

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By the end we were on overload and happy to take the elevator back up 38 floors to the surface.

If you only visit one cave in your lifetime, this is the one. What an amazing journey into a strange underground world. Even though I’m not a cave person I loved it. Although I do think I’ve now fulfilled all my cave needs for a lifetime. 🙂

Well that brings our grand total to 15 National Parks!