It’s a cold and gloomy Sunday. We said our good-byes to our new friends that morning and are now sitting in the warmth of our dry comfy RV parked in our little corner campsite all by ourselves. The abundance of windows in our tiny home allows us to watch the nasty weather roll in. It turns into an entertaining sight, and I’m incredibly thankful I’m camped in an RV and not a tent.
Al and I are shocked when we see snowflakes fall. It’s March 2012 near Phoenix, Arizona. We’re camped at the Lost Dutchman State Park, and I’m seeing snow accumulate on the Superstition Mountains. Really? The rain, hail, and snow continued most of the day. Bear’s walks were quick, much to his displeasure. I call my dad, who lives in the Chicago suburbs, and tell him where we’re camped and all about the weather. My dad can barely contain his laughter as he briefs me on the sunny blue sky and 80 degrees F weather he is enjoying.
It’s mid-March and I’m sitting in the Phoenix valley bundled up in winter attire while dad is in the Chicago area wearing shorts and a golf shirt. What’s wrong with this picture? We enjoyed a good chuckle and I promised to send him lots of photos.
RV Group Camping
Shortly after noon, the first of our Escapees Boomer Club starts arriving. This is our very first ever RV group event and first with the Escapees organization as well. We brave the elements with each RV arrival to introduce ourselves. Wanting to return to the dry warmth of our RV as soon as possible, we kept the introductions short. By late afternoon, our formerly empty group camping area was nearly full.
The next day, the only sign of the inclement weather from the day before was the dusting of snow left behind on the Superstition Mountains. From what we gathered, snow is a rare treat to behold around here which caused photographic excitement amongst locals and non-locals alike. Al and I changed our opinion from disgruntled to fortunate. After all, we did leave Colorado to escape the cold and snow, and here we were in Arizona experiencing the very weather we were trying to avoid. But back home, that weather is the norm while here it is a rarity, and we were able to witness this rare sight. So, we considered ourselves fortunate even though we weren’t necessarily happy about pulling out the winter coats.
With fair weather upon us once again and a group of around twelve RVs gathered, the organizers posted a list of activities for the upcoming three days. We had a choice of activities in which to engage. While the days were filled with hikes, seminars, and outings, the evenings centered around various get-togethers either at the pavilion or inside someone’s RV, activities determined by the weather.
One of the daytime outings with a couple of our new neighbors included a visit to Tortilla Flat for lunch. A few days earlier, Al and I had driven through this entertaining town and vowed to return. So, here was our opportunity. The restaurant walls are plastered with dollar bills covering every square inch of wall space and the bar stools are made from saddles. It’s a fun and busy place plus the burgers are tasty.
I believe this was the first time I ever snapped a photo in a lady’s restroom. The stall doors were each painted with a different dance hall gal dress design. So once you stepped up to the door, your head finished off the design. Too cute! After lunch, we stepped into the gift shop for a look around and then over to the ice cream shop. We had heard that the ice cream is delicious and shouldn’t be passed up. Feeling compelled to confirm that tidbit of info, Al and our friends confirm that the ice cream was definitely worth the indulgence. Nice job team! Unable to tolerate the dairy, I looked on longingly … sigh!
One evening, a large group of us car-pooled over to the Organ Stop Pizza for a meal and entertainment. This was our second visit to this one-of-a-kind establishment. Organ Stop Pizza is home to the world’s largest Wurlitzer Organ and even if you’re not a fan of Organ music, it’s an experience I highly recommend at least once. We enjoyed the food as well as the entertainment, but others in our group shared a different culinary opinion. Regardless, we all had a fabulous time!
RVing education seminars
Our days whizzed by as our RVing education with the Escapees Club continued. We learned about solar panels, batteries, inverters, holding tanks, boondocking, and more. We learned so much from these seasoned RVers and appreciated their time and friendship. We were sad for this way too short of a gathering to end. Alas, it was time for us to move on with more education to be had at the Good Sam Rally being held in the town of Goodyear, AZ.
Our stay at Lost Dutchman State Park and the Superstition Mountains left an indelible impression upon us. It’s a magical place … a spiritual place … a place we feel compelled to revisit time and again. There’s a unique draw to explore this wilderness area, a longing to experience its ever-changing personality with the weather, and a pull to uncover its hidden secrets. We left with the solace of knowing we’ll return … I must return!
Good Sam Rally
Our drive from Apache Junction to Goodyear took less than an hour. We set up camp at the Destiny RV Resort which was an easy 15-minute drive to the Good Sam Rally location. Thus, we could spend all day at the event with a quick return to the RV for lunch and a dog walk if necessary. Thursday morning we headed off to the Rally. We looked at dozens of RVs and visited the majority of vendor booths set up in a huge event tent. We looked at the seminar schedule and attended a partial seminar with a lackluster interest.
I think we were on RV information overload at this point especially after the previous days camped with the Escapees. By late afternoon, we had accomplished our goal and decided we wouldn’t return to the Rally the next day. We also knew our six-week road trip was nearing its end, and we’d need to start the 800-mile journey home soon.
On one hand, it felt good to be home, on the other, we felt sad. Our appetite for RV travel was awakened and we wanted more. We weren’t sure what the future held, but we knew we wanted to keep the wheels rolling in new directions.
Is this the end of our RVing journey or is it just the beginning?
This concludes my series of posts stepping back in time for my blog to book series. For more info on what I’m talking about, please check out this post – My Plan
We left Lake Pleasant a bit reluctantly but were excited to be heading to a new location. We wanted to check out more of the Maricopa County Regional Parks. If the other parks were even half as nice as Lake Pleasant, we’d be happy campers. We knew we were running a risk traveling without reservations, but Al and I were still in flitting mode with no real destination in mind. Well actually, we did have a destination in mind but that wouldn’t be for several more days down the road. So for right now, we had a few days to fill up before that rendezvous with the Escapees group.
March 17, 2012 – When we arrived at Usery Mountain Regional Park, we were told the campground was full, but we could boondock in their overflow lot until a campsite came available, which might be in the next day or two. We opted to stay in the overflow lot for the night which was nothing more than a paved parking lot located right next to the park entrance. It wasn’t ideal, but we figured for one night we’d make it work while we discussed how we wanted to spend the next several days.
It was still morning when we unhitched the RV in the Usery Mountain Regional Park overflow lot. It was a lovely day and the sky was a beautiful bright blue. The sun was warm and the breeze light. We absolutely must take advantage of this gorgeous day! Al and I packed a light lunch, drinks, loaded the dog in the truck, and headed up the road a piece. This funny expression was one of Al’s mom’s little phrases that always brought chuckles. Today’s destination; Saguaro Lake.
Wow! Al and I were awed by the beauty of Saguaro Lake. It’s a much more picturesque setting than Lake Pleasant. We found a quiet covered picnic table and enjoyed our lunch while admiring the view.
After lunch, we spent a little time driving around exploring. The marina rents various watercraft, and we were tempted to rent something the following day, but we wanted to see if we could get into a campsite at Usery Park first.
It’s 6:30 in the morning when I awake to Bear’s restlessness. That dog’s internal clock is spot on. He’s ready for his walk at the same time every morning. Even though we were camped in a parking lot, we slept ok. I throw on some clothes, hook up Bear’s leash, and slip the camera in my pocket before exiting the RV. The cactus are blooming at this time of year, and I was hoping to capture a few photos of one particular pink bloom.
It’s a brisk calm morning. Bear and I stroll up the road that leads to an Archery range. I take in the amazing array of cactus and vegetation while watching bunny’s dart across the road. Since the sun isn’t fully up just yet, he and I are totally alone enjoying the landscape and fresh air. I’m in my own little world and daydreaming. Suddenly, I’m startled by some screaming girls in the distance. I realize it was spring break, but screaming girls at 6:30 in the morning just didn’t seem right.
I listen again and that’s when reality hit me … coyotes! And they didn’t sound all that far away, plus we were walking toward the commotion. Bear and I swiftly turn around making our way back to the RV. Photos of the flowering cactus will just have to wait. I have no intention of running into a pack of coyotes this morning.
Back at the RV, we eat breakfast and after a couple of cups of coffee, Al and I decide to move over to Lost Dutchman State Park. Our plans would be taking us there in a few days anyway to join the Escapees. So, we figured, why not show up early. However, before hooking up, Al calls the state park to verify that they indeed have room for us in their overflow area.
Al talks to the head ranger who informs him that no group is booked in the group campground prior to our Escapees group, and thus, gives us the okay to set up early in the group area that’s reserved for our Boomer’s Escapee rendezvous; our very first Escapees anything.
Thirty minutes later, we pulled up to the fee station at Lost Dutchman State Park to check-in. Oops! The ranger had made a mistake, and yes, there was a private group booked that would be arriving the next day. We were allowed to camp in the group campground for the night, after that, we weren’t sure where we’d go. The ranger would leave the decision up to the incoming group whether we were allowed to stay or would need to go. The group campgrounds were the only overflow areas available at that time and overflow camping was only available when the group loops weren’t reserved.
We set up camp in a corner of the lot and knew we could stay in this spot for at least the night. The next day the ‘Superstition Square Wheelers’ would show up and determine our fate. The Superstition Square Wheelers is a local group of square dancers that share non-dancing outings a couple of times a year.
Not only did they allow us to remain in our camp spot, they graciously embraced us and included us in activities. Talk about turning lemons into lemonade. What an incredibly warm and generous group of people. We had a wonderful time, and by Sunday morning, we were exchanging contact information and hugs good-bye. But before we bid our new friends farewell, we embarked on an adventure that the group recommended.
On the far southeast side of the greater Phoenix valley lies Arizona’s oldest highway. This former stagecoach trail which runs through the Superstition Mountains was originally used by the Apache Indians thus aptly named The Apache Trail.
The Apache Trail is officially known as State Route 88 and links the town of Apache Junction with Theodore Roosevelt Lake. The trail was developed into more of a road in the 1930s to support the development of dams along the Salt River creating some beautiful lakes in the process. There are a bunch of interesting sights and views along the way which necessitate lots of stopping. Photo-op anyone? Thus, the Apache Trail Circle Loop requires an entire day for the excursion. It’s also not for the faint of heart due to the condition and topography of the road.
From the state park, we headed north on State Road 88, aka The Apache Trail. As we entered the Tonto National Forest, the road starts to climb, twist, and bend. The scenery becomes more rugged and stunning with each mile. March is particularly beautiful as the road is lined on both sides with yellow blooms from the brittlebush and desert marigolds.
Twenty miles north of the town of Apache Junction, we round a bend and are graced with the sight of an oasis in the desert. Canyon Lake with its deep blue waters surrounded by rugged cliffs and rocky terrain is a pleasant and unexpected surprise. A few more miles up the road is the cute little town of Tortilla Flat; population 6. In the future, we’ll need to stop here for lunch. We hear they serve up a great burger.
Beyond Tortilla Flat, the paved road turns into gravel. The gravel road is wide and in pretty good condition up to the scenic view parking lot. We loved the vista view and for those less adventurous this would be a good spot to turn around and retrace the journey home. But for us? We’re off on an adventure plus Al and I are used to driving unpaved mountain back roads with steep cliff drop-offs. In other words, we already knew this stretch of road between Tortilla Flat and the Roosevelt Dam would be somewhat challenging.
As we continued beyond the scenic overlook, the road narrows and winds. This two-way traffic road narrows down to about a one to one and a half lane wide road. Those going downhill supposedly have the right of way and it’s not uncommon for the need for someone to back up to a wider spot in the road so vehicles can pass by each other. Fish Creek Hill/Pass is the worst part of the journey with sheer drop-offs, very narrow road, lots of turns, and a steep elevation transition. Expect white knuckles!
One-lane bridges and a washboard gravel road add to the overall adventure. Once we reach Apache Lake, another beauty, the road becomes a little easier to traverse. Due to the washboard condition of the road and our extra-long wheel base on the F-250, it’s slow going. Two and a half hours after leaving Tortilla Flat we finally arrived at the Theodore Roosevelt Damn and Lake.
Now it was time to complete the circle and return home to the Lost Dutchman State Park. The majestic scenery continues from Roosevelt Lake to the active mining towns of Miami and Superior and passed the Boyce Thompson Arboretum. The Arboretum looks worthy of a visit, but by this point in the journey, I’m photoed out, tired, and just ready to get home. This one-day excursion was not long enough to see everything, and we made mental notes for things to see and do in the future.
Whether one is looking for solitude or a host of activities, this part of Arizona seems to offer it all. I remain awed by its raw beauty and fascinated by the plants and animals that survive in this harsh land. I find myself smitten with the landscape and left with a desire to explore more.
The sun is still tucked behind the mountains when Bear nudges me. He’s ready for his morning walk. I had a rough night, a very restless night. So, I’m moving rather slowly this morning. A weather front had rolled in and the high winds kept rocking the RV all night long. Perhaps, one day I’ll get used to living in the RV and won’t be so worried about every sound, smell, and movement felt in this tiny home on wheels.
March 16, 2012 – Upon exiting the RV, I noticed the water level had risen even more. Soon our firepit will be underwater. Each night as more water is released from the dam, the water level continues to swallow up more shoreline and encroaching closer to our RV and campsite.
A few days earlier, the rangers came around notifying RVers that we’d have a few more days before we’d have to move. Some RVs, those that were camped closer to the boat ramp, had already moved on considering their slice of land was already covered with an inch of water. Since Lake Pleasant is a reservoir, water levels are closely managed and levels fluctuate a lot. During the fall, lake levels are allowed to go down and in the spring, the lake is allowed to fill. Soon our beautiful lakefront property will be underwater.
Walking the dog and reflecting on life.
While walking Bear, I glance up and down the shoreline. There’s only a handful of RVs scattered about. I take in my tranquil surroundings and admire the colorful sky as the sun begins to rise. As I leisurely stroll, I reflect on the past month of life on the road and ask myself, “Am I ready to head home or am I home”? I don’t have the answer just yet, but I do have a much better understanding as to why my mother encouraged me to start RVing while young and healthy. It’s a fantastic way to travel, and I feel a sense of contentment that I hadn’t felt in a long time.
I find so much joy and peace being near the water, camping in nature, and enjoying the wildlife. Perhaps it’s due to fond childhood memories spent camping near lakes in northern Wisconsin. My mind wanders …
My parents are originally from Germany and had traveled all over Europe on their motorcycle before emigrating to the United States. As two very adventurous souls, they sold most of their belongings, packed two steamer trunks and a suitcase, boarded a ship near Amsterdam, and a week later mom, dad, and their two-year-old son (my brother) arrived in New York City. They then took a train from New York City to Chicago, Illinois, where their sponsor would help them get settled into their new life in the United States.
My father did not speak any English with the exception of some very inappropriate phrases taught to him by American soldiers during the war. My father spent his eighteenth year in an American-French prison camp. He had been a German soldier during World War II and had been captured by the Americans. So you can imagine the type of English he was taught. My mother was a bit more adept at picking up languages and knew enough English words (proper words) to get by.
What guts and fortitude they had to leave their home, their family, and move to a foreign country … a country that had previously bombed and destroyed their homes and towns and imprisoned my father. Their intent was to explore the United States for two years then move to Argentina for two years and then eventually return home to Germany.
Life did not go exactly as planned or expected. I showed up a bit more than a year after their arrival to America. I guess the doctor was wrong, much to mom’s delight. Thus, with two kids and all the responsibilities associated with a growing family, the travel that they intended to do was slightly out of reach.
But they weren’t content to just stay housebound. Summer weekends were spent at Chicago’s Lake Shore with the additional car and tent camping trips to Wisconsin and Michigan. During these explorations, my father developed a passion for fishing. Summer vacations were soon spent camping throughout the state of Wisconsin at various lakes. My brother and I loved these trips. We would spend hours swimming, making new friends, catching frogs, fish, grasshoppers, and lighting bugs. Television was never missed.
When my sister came along (doctors were wrong again), a pop-up trailer replaced the tent. My dad also added a boat, which was pulled by his fishing buddy and co-worker. The guys would fish early in the morning and again late in the day. I guess that’s when “the fish are biting”. During the heat of the day, my brother and I learned how to water ski. Oh, how fun these summer vacations were, and I thank my parents for such fond childhood memories.
Fast forward … three grown kids, empty nesters, and retired. It was finally time to see the United States of America, the whole reason for coming to this country all those years ago. For over fifteen years and a few RVs later, mom and dad explored the United States making friends from around the country. These adventures turned into the best years of their lives. My mom’s face would always light up just talking about their RV travels and the friends they had made.
Would history repeat itself? Would I too embrace this RV lifestyle with the same passion as my parents? Questions to ponder! Hmm, it might even be fun for Al and me to retrace some of my folk’s travels.
Our ten days camped at the spillway near the 10 lane boat ramp at Lake Pleasant were enjoyable and educational, but we had new territory to explore and new people to meet. It was time for us to move over to the east side of the Phoenix valley for some new adventures which would include group camping with the Escapees.
As much as we loved our campsite along the Colorado River at the Davis Park, the winds in Bullhead City were relentless. Thus, it was time for us to move on and head back over to Phoenix. After a little internet research, I discovered the Maricopa Regional Park system, particularly Lake Pleasant Regional Park. Ah yes, more water and hopefully less wind.
Lake Pleasant Regional Park – March 6, 2012
With more than 23,000 acres of water and surrounded by the beautiful Sonoran desert, Lake Pleasant Regional Park is a popular recreation area located in the town of Peoria on the far northwest side of the Phoenix Arizona Valley. This desert oasis was exactly what we were looking for. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to secure a campsite reservation online so we decided to just show up and see what camping options were available. One can hope for a campsite cancellation.
After our three-plus-hour drive from Bullhead City to Lake Pleasant, we pulled up to the Lake Pleasant fee station and confirmed that the campgrounds were indeed booked. Sigh, no cancellations! We asked the ranger for camping options. She precedes to tell us and show us on the map all the boondocking areas, but her favorite and her recommendation would be the 10 lane boat ramp. A boat ramp? Did we just hear that right?
I’ll admit, after driving all morning, Al and I were a little on the tired side and didn’t fully comprehend all that she said, “There are lots of places to park at the spillway which is just past the 10 lane boat ramp … there are two ways to get there, but I only recommend one yadda … yadda … yadda.” I think we were more confused by her information and directions than enlightened. We paid our daily admittance fee along with two nights of shoreline boondocking and headed off in search of this place to camp that she recommended.
Before we even hit the road, Al and I had made a promise to each other that when it came time to search out boondocking spots, we would first explore without the RV in tow. We’d call it a scouting mission and this mission would help us avoid getting ourselves into a pickle. Great plan … when implemented.
Boondocking is a term used by RVers to describe RV camping without being connected to services – no water, no electric, no sewer. Unlike dry camping, boondocking is dispersed camping that is not located in a designated campground.Popular boondocking locations are in National Forests or even approved parking lots like a Walmart.
We were off in search of a campsite. After the first correct turn, Al and I asked each other where we were supposed to turn next. We were both confused. It was either fatigue or information overload that found us turning onto Sunset Ridge Road, and just as the name implies, it’s a road on a ridge. The paved road quickly turns into a dirt road that eventually winds its way down to the shoreline. Not exactly an RV-friendly road. We soon realized our mistake and stopped before venturing further down the dirt road and further into a situation that we couldn’t safely get out of.
It was at that moment that we had our aha moment and realized, after the fact, that this was the route that the ranger didn’t recommend. Eek! Time to make a quick decision. Al and I jumped out of the truck (fortunately, we were all alone … no witnesses, thank goodness) and assess the situation. Al was pretty sure the tight turning radius capability with a 5th wheel would allow him to turn around. If he’s wrong? … well, guess he’ll go tumbling off the side of the hill. Hmm, did I pay that life insurance bill? Snicker! In all seriousness, we were both pretty stressed and concerned. We preceded with extreme caution. I serve as a spotter while Al makes the tight and precarious turnaround. This turn was so tight that it would not have possible with a travel trailer, and we are so grateful we have a 5th wheel. The next day, we confirmed that we made a wise decision and that it definitely would not have been a good idea to continue any further on this road. Oh, we probably could’ve made it, but not without some possible RV undercarriage damage.
With the turnaround successful and a mishap avoided, we gathered our composure and eventually found the correct turn and the spillway. Ah yes, this will work nicely! We settle in for a couple of nights and end up extending our stay several times for a total of ten days camped along the shores of Lake Pleasant.
Meeting interesting people!
During the weekdays, we practically had our perfect waterfront campsite to ourselves. The weekends were a whole different story … jam-packed might adequately describe it. On warm sunny days, every square inch of shoreline is occupied with people as locals flock to Lake Pleasant in droves for weekend water recreation. This is when Lake Pleasant isn’t so pleasant.
More than once, we witnessed ignorant and rude behavior, even a verbal fight that almost turned into a fistfight. Case in point – ignorant behavior; It was a beautiful Friday in March and there was a steady stream of weekend warriors rolling in all day in all kinds of RVs. By late afternoon, the shoreline was packed with RVs and new arrivals started setting up camp in the rest of the paved lot. Earlier that day, neighbor Tom had parked his truck on the other side of his RV so he wouldn’t accidentally get blocked in by a new arrival as well as be neighborly, and we did the same.
Late Saturday afternoon as I was returning to our RV after walking the dog, I watched a large motorhome squeeze, and I mean squeeze, in between Tom and Kay’s RV and another RV to their right. I’m not exaggerating when I say the side of that motorhome was maybe three feet away from the front nose of Tom and Kay’s 5th wheel and maybe less to the neighboring RV. To top it off, the motorhome pulled all the way up to the water’s edge then immediately started the generator which caused the exhaust to blow straight at Tom and Kay who were sitting outside trying to enjoy a quiet evening with plans to watch the sunset. Oh, and because the generator was so loud, the motorhome folks had to play their music even louder.
By 10:00 a.m. the next morning, the motorhome home had pulled out along with other RVers, and by late Sunday afternoon, the majority of RVs around us had departed returning Lake Pleasant to pleasant once again. When we noticed Kay and Tom sitting outside, we walked over to discuss the audacity of that motorhome the evening before. These folks were in their 12th year of full-time RV living and Al and I were in awe. We had so many questions. They took the motorhome event in stride and shared more RV bad behavior stories that they’d witness over the years. We learned a lot from these two and were sad to see them leave the next day.
It didn’t take long before we had new neighbors. These friendly RV folks were quick to come over and introduce themselves. Once again, the conversation flowed smoothly, and we discovered not only did we have similar 5th wheels, but we shared a similar background in aviation. However, there was one subject where we were definitely not on the same page.
Turns out, this delightful couple had just spent six weeks camped in Quartzsite … at the magic circle. Say what? Oh my, another clothing-optional couple! Al and I began to wonder if we were some kind of magnet or if we had a sort of look. Thankfully, they weren’t into spouse swapping like the Lake Havasu neighbor, but they did share plenty of photos of their clothing-optional vacations from around the world; their favorite being in the south of France. TMI folks!
Aside from these seasoned RVers sharing a little too much of their too little clothing lifestyle, they enlightened these RV newbies on solar panels, batteries, and making RV modifications; information Al and I gladly soaked up. We appreciated their time and knowledge.
Enjoying lake life!
Although we relished engaging with fellow RVers, we enjoyed plenty of quiet time as well … time to sit, relax, and reflect on life. I think Al and I needed that downtime … time to watch the clouds pass overhead and the ducks paddle by.
After an awe-inspiring trip to Death Valley National Park, we reluctantly bid farewell to this incredible national park. February 2012 – Today’s destination is Mesquite, Nevada. The main reason for our visit to Mesquite is to connect with long time friends of my parents. The two couples met during their RVing days via their regular winter excursions to the Texas Gulf Coast. Even though both couples sold their RVs due to health and age, they still managed to maintain their close friendship regardless of distance.
We had met these friends previously during one of our Texas vacations visiting my parents at an RV Park on Mustang Island. Bill and Sigrid are a delightful couple that were currently splitting their time between their ranch in Montana and a Park Model in Mesquite. Even though they had sold their motorhome the previous year, they weren’t totally done with RVing and had recently purchased a little travel trailer for an upcoming trip to Alaska which I was particularly interested in hearing all about. This would be their third and final RV road trip to Alaska, and they were a wealth of information. Considering such an RV adventure was on my radar at the time, I was eager to soak up as much knowledge as they were willing to share.
From our campsite at Stovepipe Wells, we headed west via Daylight Pass Road (Hwy 374) toward the town of Beatty, Nevada. In Beatty, we picked up Hwy 95 and headed south toward Las Vegas. Once in Las Vegas, we picked up the 215 beltway east to I-15 north. The trip took us about three hours including a stop for gas and lunch.
Finding a place to stay in Mesquite
Mesquite is a small town about an hour’s drive north of Las Vegas, Nevada, with a population of less than 20,000. We had lived in Las Vegas in the 1990s and kept this town on our shortlist of possible places to retire. So we were curious about our current feelings toward this community.
With only two exits off of Interstate 15, we chose to exit at the first one and stop at Walmart to stock up on supplies. Before turning into the Walmart parking lot, we notice a banner hanging on some fencing – RV Resort with an arrow. Once our Walmart shopping trip was complete, we decide to check out that RV Resort on the banner. The Solstice Motorcoach Resort had only been open less than a year and was an absolutely beautiful facility. Considering it was so new, there were plenty of empty sites. We decide to spend a week and focus on ridding ourselves, the dog, and the RV of dirt and sand. I’m sure we were carrying a few extra pounds of weight in sand alone from our stay in Death Valley.
The Park sits high above the town of Mesquite offering a beautiful night view of the lights. No dark sky around here! The folks at the RV Park were extremely friendly, helpful, and made this stop perfect to tend to chores, relaxation, and a couple of fun visits with family friends.
Enlightened by seasoned RVers
One of the things I enjoy most about the RV lifestyle is the people we meet. There’s something about RVing that connects folks from all walks of life … age, economic status, race, religion, etc. doesn’t seem to matter as much as our common interest in RV travel and getting into nature.
We visit with Sigrid and Bill a couple of times throughout the week and our conversations flow freely. We talk about their plans for their upcoming Alaskan RV road trip. They bring out maps and The Milepost Book. They share photos and tales from previous trips as well as impending details of their upcoming trip. We are enlightened and soak up the information.
Eventually, the conversation switches over to photography and Bill brings out his new camera. He has owned many cameras, both DSLR’s and Point & Shoots, but really loves this new Panasonic Bridge Camera. Hmm, a bridge camera? … more enlightenment on my part. He shares the pluses and minuses of a bridge camera as well as some recent wildlife images taken with the new camera. I’m impressed and make a note for future reference. My little Point & Shoot camera was definitely limiting and I was getting ready to upgrade.
Before bidding farewell to this engaging couple, Sigrid and I turn our attention to her relationship with my mother, especially since this was the week of my mom’s birthday: Feb. 26th. Mom and Sigrid were particularly close and Sigrid and I bond over tears as we share tales about my mother and how much she is missed.
Life can be fleeting, and little did I know at that moment, but a month later, Sigrid would pass away in her sleep from a brain aneurism. 😥
Our week in Mesquite was very relaxing and productive. We accomplished some chores, visited with family friends, and engaged with other RVers at the RV Park. This last week in February, the weather was still a little chilly so it was time to move on in search of warmer weather. As much as we enjoyed our week-long stay, we decided Mesquite was no longer on our retirement shortlist.
During our stay at Lake Havasu, fellow campers had shared some of their favorite campgrounds with us … particularly places in the desert southwest. One such place was the Davis Camp Park located along the Colorado River and right below the Davis Dam in Bullhead City, Arizona. We were in the process of working our way back to Phoenix and decided the Davis Camp Park location was perfect for splitting the distance between Mesquite and Phoenix.
Upon arrival, we were allowed to drive around the campground and pick out a site before paying and filling out the paperwork. After driving all around, we finally decide on a waterfront campsite with no hookups. Ah, let the entertainment begin! I stand at the rear of the site to help direct Al in backing up into the RV site. I begin to wonder if he even pays attention to me and my direction other than when to stop. I ponder … perhaps I should get some of those orange wands ground crew use to direct pilots. Maybe then, just maybe, Mr. former Airline Pilot would give dear wife more credibility. Probably not! I’ll just continue with my usual hand gestures, or as Al likes to call it “my song and dance routine”.
These two RV newbies continue to be stressed whenever arriving at a new campground and needing to back into a site. In addition to the normal everyday stresses of learning this new RV lifestyle, the extreme wind that was blowing all around us was another stressor and concern. The wind was so incredibly bad that the RV swayed from side to side. This former Illinois gal has seen first hand the devastating destruction caused by extreme wind. I immediately have a fear of our RV being flipped onto its side by a gust of wind. I quickly extend the slides thinking perhaps the slides would act as outriggers. Al laughs at me, but in my defense, the RV did sway less with the slides extended.
We really enjoyed our great waterfront campsite … wind and all. And no, we never did come close to toppling over. This was merely the first time we had encountered such extreme wind in our new RV, and this was just another lesson in our long learning curve.
The town of Laughlin and its Casinos are practically within walking distance from the campground, and Bullhead City is bigger than we originally thought with lots of amenities. Although we liked our campsite, the warm weather, and the area in general, after three nights, we’d had our fill of the winds and were on our way bound for Phoenix.
I’m sitting in our climate-controlled truck on a cushioned leather seat watching the scenery unfold in front of me. The land is vast, harsh, barren, and the road free of traffic. I can’t fathom the life of Pioneers who first explored these lands via horseback and wagon. Complaining about the lack of cell or internet coverage seems so petty on my part. However, the thought of a flat tire or other breakdown has me feeling somewhat uncomfortable. No calling AAA out here. We’re on our own!
Our Route – February 22, 2012
We pulled out of our campsite in Lake Havasu City bright and early that morning. We traveled north on Highway 95 to Interstate 40 west. After studying the map the day before, I thought it would be interesting to drive through the Mojave National Preserve.
The Mojave Desert is an arid rain-shadow desert and the driest desert in North America. And just like I imagined, the views are miles upon miles of sparsely vegetated land … harsh land that deserves respect if one is to survive. After our turnoff from Interstate 40 onto Kelbaker Road, I think we saw less than a dozen other vehicles, if that. Fascinating terrain!
Once in the town of Baker, we top off with fuel. We realize, the further we get from civilization, the more expensive fuel costs will become. Our journey continues toward Death Valley National Park and Furnace Creek.
The Furnace Creek Campground was currently undergoing a renovation and therefore closed for the season (Feb. 2012). Signs directed us to the Sunset Campground where we quickly found a level gravel site to pull into. The Sunset Campground was pretty much an organized gravel parking lot with no services, but at $12 a night, we weren’t complaining. We made a quick note of the generator hours to assure we kept our batteries topped off.
Sunset Campground is aptly named. Every evening, we found ourselves sitting outside to watch the sunset. Once the sun had disappeared, the sky would turn into fantastic shades of colors ranging from pinks to reds and purples. Then the sky would slowly darken to the most incredible deep, deep midnight blue. The stars were bright and the crescent moon stunning. Al and I would just sit quietly in awe watching the show unfold.
Although we lived in a community with a dark sky policy (Pueblo West, CO), I think this was the first time we truly understood light pollution. There was none here to detract from the beauty of the sky, and we were appreciative observers. Each night was a little different but equally spectacular. There are some things in life that can’t be captured via a photograph and must be experienced first hand. Admiring the night sky in Death Valley National Park was definitely one of those special moments … a vision etched in my memories.
Exploring Death Valley
Established in 1994, Death Valley National Park is a beautiful but challenging landscape where unique wildlife have developed ingenious adaptations to the arid, harsh environment. Located in both California and Nevada, it’s the largest national park in the lower 48 states and has nearly 1,000 miles of roads that provide access to both popular and remote locations in the park.
After reviewing the Death Valley National Park map, Al and I discuss our plan for the day. National Parks are not usually pet friendly and Death Valley is no exception. So Al and I plan our day keeping our dog, Bear, in mind. Fortunately, the weather would be in the 60 degrees Faherenheit range allowing us to leave Bear in the RV alone for a few hours. Since he was over thirteen years old, Bear was showing his age and could use a little extra rest after a rather exciting, fun-filled five days in Lake Havasu. So, he didn’t mind being left behind to catch up on some much-needed rest.
Our first stops were Zabriskie Point and Dante’s View. Dante’s View is considered the most breathtaking viewpoint in the park. The overlook is more than 5,000 feet above the floor of Death Valley and overlooks Badwater Basin. We were extremely glad that we wore our sweatshirts considering the temperature was only around 52 degrees Fahrenheit that morning and extremely windy at this high overlook.
On our return to the RV, we took a side trip and ventured down a dirt road known as Twenty Mule Team Canyon. This is a one-way 2.7 mile drive through badlands. The history of this road dates back to the days of mining for Borax in the Valley. It was a fun little side trip even though there were points I wondered if our large truck would fit through some of the tight corridors in the canyon. If it weren’t for our growling stomachs beckoning for lunch, I would’ve loved stopping more frequently along the way. Yes, more photo-ops would’ve been nice, although Al might disagree.
Upon our return to the RV, we find Bear still fast asleep and needing to be coaxed for his walk. He is one tired little guy and doesn’t mind being left behind the rest of the day.
After lunch, Al and I head over to Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level. Badwater Basin is a vast landscape of salt flats. From a distance it looks like snow.
We ventured out onto the salt flats taking in the fascinating landscape. Badwater Basin was once the site of a large inland lake. The lake had no outlet, leading to the accumulation of sediment and salt over time. When the lake eventually evaporated, concentrated salt deposits were left behind. Today, captivating geometric salt polygons form on the flats as groundwater rises up through these deposits and evaporates.
After more than thirty minutes of walking around the salt flats and marveling at the unique and surreal environment, we returned to the truck where we noticed the salt residue had stuck to our shoes and was now leaving a fine coating of salt residue on our truck floor mats.
A Golf Course that isn’t a Golf Course
Just north of Badwater Basin is a side road that took us down a bumpy dirt road to a parking lot. We found ourselves surrounded by craggy boulders which are really meteorite like sharp crystal formations of salt. Imagine an immense area of rock salt that has been eroded by wind and rain and turned into jagged spires and boulders. The sculpted salt formations form a rugged terrain that is simultaneously delicate yet dramatic. Rocks are so serrated that only the devil could play golf on such rough links. Hence, the name Devils Golf Course.
The terrain looks daunting and can be dangerous, thus best viewed from the parking lot. We had the place to ourselves and it was so quiet that we could actually hear the salt formations cracking. It was like tiny little pops and pings. The sound is literally billions of tiny salt crystals bursting apart as they expand and contract in the heat.
The next stop on our tour was driving the scenic, one-way, nine-mile paved road known as Artist’s Drive. A photo-op stop at the Artists Palette is a must. Artists Palette consists of multi-hued volcanic hills, best photographed in the afternoon. Known for its variety of rock colors, it’s no wonder where the name came from. The various colors are caused by the oxidation of different metals. Iron compounds produce red, pink, and yellow. The decomposition of mica produces green, and manganese produces purple. Once again, we are left speechless and perplexed by the terrain.
After two full days of exploring this southern section of Death Valley, it was time to move north. Al and I never realized just how enormous this national park is; 3,373,063 acres.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
On day three, we move camp to the Stovepipe Wells Campground. Upon arrival, we realize its remoteness. With the exception of Furnace Creek, all of Death Valley is extremely remote and vast. We park the RV with the backend into the wind. The wind is blowing and dirt devils are twirling.
Once settled in our new location, we head on over to the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes nearby which is the whole reason we moved to this new location. Al and I hike the dunes being sure to keep our eyes on the ground for critters; snakes, scorpions, etc. We occasionally stop for photos or to marvel at the landscape. These dunes rise nearly 100 feet from the Mesquite Flat and are in a constant state of change due to the winds. It appears wind is the norm in this part of the park.
The winds continue to blow and Al and I are covered in a fine layer of dirt and sand. We return to the RV for dinner in hopes of enjoying another gorgeous sunset. We were sorely disappointed with the sunset in this location. However, the night sky and the crescent moon made up for any lack in sunset color. If we had it to do over, we probably would have stayed at the Sunset Campground and just driven to Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes for the day.
Although I feel we barely touched the surface of this awe-inspiring terrain, the constant extreme wind was irritating, and we decided to leave the next day with the promise of returning to Death Valley another time.
Throughout our entire Death Valley explorations, we were intrigued by the landscape and felt like we had stepped back in time … Jurassic time. With each bend in the road, it would not have surprised us to have encountered a dinosaur or perhaps see a pterodactyl fly overhead. Or perhaps it wasn’t another realm but rather another planet. Regardless, we were awed, mesmerized, and perplexed by the incredible landscape. We left with the realization that another visit to Death Valley National Park would be warranted. Four days and three nights were definitely not enough time to explore this expansive and special land.
I’m sitting at the kitchen table gazing out the window and beyond the deck. In the far distance Pikes Peak is covered in a low shroud of gray cloud cover. The chill in the air serves as another reminder that more snow is on the way. I’m feeling down! Even the dog seems depressed.
November 2011 – “Okay, time to snap out of it, Ingrid”, I mutter to myself. I allow my fingers to quickly move over the keyboard on my laptop. I Google everything I can think of with those two letters; R V. I come across some interesting articles and dive a little deeper. Blogs? Hmm, I think I heard that word once before on one of Paula Deen’s cooking shows on the Food Network. She had a guest on her show who wrote a very popular cooking blog called the Pioneer Woman. Prior to that, I’m not sure I’d ever heard the term before, and I still wasn’t sure exactly what it was.
For years I was so busy working, being a wife, mother, and business owner that I rarely had enough time for myself let alone have the ability to just linger on the internet. But that all changed with the Great Recession, a poor housing economy, and an empty nest. I now found myself with more time on my hands than ever before. Time to daydream about RV travels. I gobbled up as much information as I could find and began reading RVing blogs, blogs all about RV travel.
I was green with envy as I read travel tale after travel tale accompanied by beautiful photographs. I wanted in. I wanted to be a part of the RV lifestyle. My poor RV had been sitting on the side of our house neglected for almost a year. It’s as if I could feel my mom’s presence as she stood over me saying, “What are you waiting for? If that’s what you want, go for it”.
There were many times in my life where I wished I had listened to my mom more often, and now that she was no longer physically here, I thought it would be a great idea to at least listen to her spirit or those voices in my head. Before long, I was studying Google Maps. I had to keep winter weather and winter driving conditions in mind while planning a trip.
The makings of a plan
Where to go? I knew I wanted to go west and include a visit with our son in Phoenix. As I scour the map, two words jump out at me like a red beacon; Death Valley. Oh my gosh! I have wanted to visit Death Valley National Park for as long as I can remember. It sounds so foreboding, so mysterious, and fits my current gloomy mood.
I run the RV trip idea past Al. In September, just two months earlier, Al found himself flying back to Illinois to attend his mother’s funeral. He wasn’t in any better of a mood than I was and was rather indifferent to a getaway. Basically, his response was, “Go ahead and plan a trip and just let me know what direction I need to point the RV and when. AND don’t get us into a pickle, a situation that may damage the RV”.
Alrighty then! Let the planning commence. Oh, and I think I’ll start my own blog in the process. The blog will serve as my personal journal documenting this trip.
It was now January 2012. With holiday decorations packed away after enjoying a very low key Christmas holiday with both children joining us in our new house in Pueblo West, it was finally time to set a timeline for that RV getaway. We were in the thick of winter weather in Colorado, and we’d have to plan our drive strategically to avoid icy roads. The previous winter, we had spun out in my little red Toyota Tacoma on some black ice near Trinidad, Colorado, and we certainly didn’t want to experience anything similar with the RV in tow.
After a few false starts due to snowstorms, we finally had a big enough break in the weather and were on the road in mid-February 2012. Two days later we arrived in Phoenix, and once again, we stayed at the Desert’s Edge RV Park on the north side of the valley for a couple of nights so we could get in a quick visit with our son.
Next stop, Lake Havasu City
We were traveling in footloose and fancy-free fashion with no reservations, no real timeline, or a definite destination in mind other than Death Valley. We meandered along our route taking in the new sights and pulling over whenever we felt like it. Eventually, we arrived in Lake Havasu City and drove around looking for a camping option. The state park was full. The first private RV park we pulled into was also full. After a little more driving around, we pulled into the Crazy Horse Campground which was also booked up, but they had a large parcel of land outside of the RV Park where they allowed RVers to boondock for a fee which included the use of the restrooms/bath house located within the RV park.
We were fortunate the campground was booked. The RV spots in the campground were tight and RVs were packed in like sardines. There was hardly enough elbow room between units. This was not what this newbie RVer had in mind when we set out on this journey. It’s all about being in nature for me and having a view out my window.
I loved our view and distance away from other RVers on this dirt parcel of land. This overflow lot overlooks the lake and there’s plenty of room for everyone. We even had a fire ring for real campfires of which we took full advantage.
We loved staying at the overflow lot at the Crazy Horse Campground. It is located on an island, thus requiring us to cross the London Bridge for access. It is within walking distance of the bridge, shops, restaurants, and lakeshore. The shoreline offers a lovely park setting with walking trails, a dog park, a marina, beaches, playgrounds, and picnic areas. We took full advantage of this location and explored via foot every day.
Unbeknownst to us, we happened to pick the busiest and most popular weekend out of the year to visit Lake Havasu. The annual Winterfest is held every President’s Day Weekend in February. It’s a weekend filled with festivals, a car show, Rockabilly Concert, and Winter Blast. Winter Blast is a fireworks extravaganza. Spectacular fireworks are displayed by firework professionals who are testing the latest advances in the industry, culminating in a huge pyrotechnic show in the evenings.
Lake Havasu City was developed by Robert McCulloch in 1963 on the eastern shore of Lake Havasu. He later purchased the London Bridge, which was dismantled brick by brick and numbered and then shipped to Lake Havasu City from England. It was reassembled and completed in 1971 and connects the island to the mainland and serves as a popular tourist attraction.
Interesting tidbit: After Robert McCulloch developed Lake Havasu City, he went on to develop Fountain Hills (1970), just east of Phoenix, as well as Pueblo West, Colorado (1969) – our home town from 2000-2013. All three communities were designed in a similar fashion and share many of the same street names.
Lake Havasu City is a playground mecca for adults. The large lake offers visitors a host of water activities, and the land offers an endless amount of trails for off-roading and hiking. If you don’t have your own toys, there are dozens of places to rent the toy of choice; boats, wave runners, kayaks, ATVs, and more.
One unique and rather popular hobby around here is power gliding. At our campsite, we were buzzed regularly by what I liked to call flying lawnmowers. Al was totally infatuated by the sight and ready to return to the skies. My initial thoughts were I don’t think so! Although Al does not miss his commercial aviation days, he does occasionally miss those daring Naval aviation missions overseas. I left Al to his thoughts while he builds us another campfire and contemplates going up in a power glider.
Al and I did our best to explore as much as possible during our five-day stay in Lake Havasu City. We also befriended fellow campers/neighbors who had been visiting the area regularly over the years. These seasoned RVers were a wealth of information, and we gobbled up as much info as they were willing to share.
Funny campfire story!
One evening, our group of befriended neighbors were away attending the pyrotechnics show at Sara Park. They had invited us to join them, but we opted to avoid the big crowds by staying home and enjoying a quiet evening around the campfire. As we were doing just that, we noticed a man walking around in the dark, sometimes in circles. He seemed lost in his thoughts. We invited him over to our campfire.
We asked him if he was okay? “Not really”, he responded. As he continued to sip on his beer, he hesitantly began telling us his situation. His girlfriend was back at the RV having a heated phone conversation with his wife who was currently living with the girlfriend’s husband. Say what? I guess these two couples met years ago while boondocking at the magic circle in Quartzsite. The magic circle is just a small section of land in an otherwise massively large parcel of property managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM – Federal Government) located in Quartzsite, Arizona, and is a clothing-optional area.
Every winter, Quartzsite is inundated with thousands of RVers boondocking in this large sparsely vegetated desert. Many folks return year after year rendezvousing with friends and other like-minded RVers. Such was the case with these two couples, and as their friendship grew, they began swapping spouses. Once it was time to move on, each normally left with their legal spouses, but not after this most recent Quartzsite visit. The couples agreed to leave with the others’ spouses and reunite a few weeks later. But when a few weeks later rolled around, both women wanted to stay with the same guy, leaving our campfire friend feeling at a loss. He wanted his wife back, but she wasn’t sure she wanted to return. Thus, his conundrum.
The next day, our campfire acquaintance and his girlfriend packed up and pulled out of camp leaving Al and me wondering what the outcome would be. Would they return to the magic circle and reunite with their fellow nudists? Would any of them remain married? We are left to our own imaginations.
A couple of days later, it was our turn to leave. We had new territory to explore. We left Lake Havasu a little wiser and definitely more enlightened. There were a lot of facets to this new RV life that we never imagined.
Shortly after Traverse City, we round the bay. The road bends north, and Michigan’s Highway 31 takes us through storybook small towns nestled along the shores of Lake Michigan. When we pass the occasional fruit stand at the end of someone’s driveway, Ashton is somewhat perplexed by the sight.
I begin to explain how we’re in Cherry country. Actually, Michigan is a growing mecca for all kinds of berries, fruits, greens, and of course cherries. The state offers rich soil and plenty of moisture making it easy to grow just about anything. Quite often folks grow more than they can consume and choose to set up a stand at the end of their driveway.
Since tourism is huge in this part of the state, locals or folks like ourselves who are traveling through will stop and purchase freshly picked items. It works on an honor system. We take just enough fresh goodies for our needs of whatever they’re selling and leave behind money placed in a container that they’ve provided. Small town America at its finest.
Time for Lunch
With our tummies growling (Hmm, maybe we should’ve stopped at one of those fruit stands), we stop for lunch in the beautiful town of Petoskey. This is definitely a wealthy town filled with architecturally attractive second homes and a harbor filled with high-end Cabin Cruisers, Sailboats, and Yachts. We admire our surroundings and enjoy a nice meal at an outdoor cafe.
The Mighty Mac
Our drive continues. Highway 31 eventually merges onto Interstate 75. It won’t be long now! I can feel my palms on the steering wheel begin to sweat. The Mackinac Bridge connects Lower Michigan to Upper Michigan and is currently the fifth-longest suspension bridge in the world. It’s approximately 5 miles long and at its center sits around 200 feet above the water.
All suspension bridges are designed to move to accommodate wind, change in temperature, and weight. It’s possible that the deck at the center span of the Mackinac Bridge could move as much as 35 feet from side to side during high winds. It’s a four-lane toll bridge with only the outer lanes paved. Wind warnings should be checked prior to crossing with a high profile vehicle such as an RV.
August 2011 – Fortunately, we’re traveling in a car and it’s a beautiful August day with manageable winds … but that doesn’t make me any less nervous. The open metal grate road has my steering wheel vibrating from side to side. I hang on tight. The paved right lane is closed just ahead and therefore not an option. It’s a beautiful bridge and a remarkable feat of engineering that I prefer to admire from shore.
With the bridge portion of our drive behind us, we navigate through the town of St. Ignace in search of our hotel. Over lunch, Ashton convinced me to book a hotel room instead of pitching the tent at the Straits State Park. I have very fond childhood memories of our family of five camping at that state park, and I wanted to share the experience with Ashton.
But alas, the comfort of a hotel room with the ability for a long hot shower did sound rather appealing, especially since I could still feel myself covered in sandy grit from our morning escapades, but I didn’t let Ashton know that. I let her think she won! Besides, it was already a long day with another long day planned for the following day. The thought of having to set up camp just sounded like way more work than I was interested in doing. Hotel it is!
After settling into the room, we catch the next ferry to Mackinac Island to grab dinner and give Ashton a quick overview of what the next day’s plans would entail.
By the way, during this entire trip, we never used a GPS nor did either one of us own a Smart Phone at the time. We also didn’t use the internet during this entire excursion. We used a good old-fashioned Atlas for navigation, and I had a notebook with handwritten information listing possible places to stay and things to do along our travel route … notes that were researched at home, back in Colorado. During lunch, I made a hotel reservation for that evening via a phone call from my flip-phone.
No cars. Just horses and bicycles. No chain hotels. Just one of a kind lodging accommodations. No chain restaurants. Just unique tasty eateries. And more fudge than any normal person could possibly consume.
“Come on mom. Let’s go”, Ashton urges. Who’s doing the nudging now? “Okay, okay! Just one more phone call”, I respond. I was still running a business after all. There was still a responsible adult lingering within no matter how hard I tried to escape. My goal was to make sure the day was free of business matters so I could focus on mother/daughter time and enjoy our day.
9:00 a.m. – We catch the ferry about an hour later than planned. Ashton is eager to explore this island that she’s heard so much about from her mother, me. The previous evening’s short visit had merely intrigued her further.
The romantic 1980s movie, Somewhere in Time, introduced the country to the Grand Hotel and Mackinac Island. During the summer of 1981, I planned my first romantic getaway here with my then-new boyfriend. Although we couldn’t afford to stay at the Grand Hotel, we did find a quaint spot in town for a couple of nights. Apparently, our relationship blossomed because forty years and two kids later, Al is still dealing with my surprise travel planning.
Ashton and I were some of the first few folks to exit the ferry. Ashton was on a mission to get to a bicycle rental shop before the crowd and persuaded me to keep moving and not stop at the restroom. (Note to self – don’t listen to your 21-year-old child.) There are multiple bike rental shops to choose from, and considering this was late August and the economy was still struggling, the crowds were at a minimum. Her concerns were unfounded.
With waivers signed, we were given a quick demo on the bikes we had chosen. “Yeah, yeah, yeah”, I think to myself when the only thing I’m interested in is the location of the nearest restroom. Finally, the young man hands over the bike and I walk it over to the curb where I proceed to fling one leg to the other side of the bike and get ready to hop on.
I’m not sure how or why it happened. It seemed to occur in slow motion. One minute I was upright and the next I was falling to the ground. The bicycle and I literally toppled over on our sides to the ground. Folks rushed to my aid. Oh no, I’m so embarrassed. I jump up, quickly grab my bottle of water, noting the wet spot on the sidewalk, and with a flushed red face laughingly say, “I’m fine. Yes, seriously, I’m fine”, and before anyone could say another word, including my daughter, I’m pedaling down the road to the public restroom.
Feeling renewed and ready to tackle the day, I exit the restroom and quickly spot Ashton who whispers, “Mom, did you pee your pants”, Ashton asks in a concerned tone? “Of course I didn’t. My water bottled leaked”. She looks at me again and says, “Oh my gosh! You did pee your pants. I am so sorry. We really should’ve stopped here first before grabbing the bikes”. I adamantly exclaim, ” I did not! It was the water bottle that leaked. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it”. We both bust out laughing as I remind Ashton that I’m thirty years older than her. We jump on the bikes still chuckling and begin our eight-mile circumference ride around the exterior of the island.
Mackinac Island was once a national park, the second in the United States. However, in 1895 it was turned over to the state of Michigan and today over eighty percent of the island is State Park property and most of the land remains in its natural condition. There are over seventy miles of signed roads and marked trails, some of which are paved and some which are not and all are assessable to the public.
We weren’t even halfway through our bike ride when Ashton and I realized one day on this picturesque island is not enough. We should’ve booked an overnight on the island. There’s so much to see, explore, and enjoy especially when visiting during the off-season.
After our one-hour bike ride around the exterior of the island, we returned the bikes and set off on foot.
Of course, a visit to the historical landmark, the Grand Hotel, was a must. We tour the grounds, step inside for a quick peek and sample the Grand Hotel fudge, some of the grainiest I’ve ever tasted … no thank you. Moving on, we opt for a late lunch at a Sports Bar near the Stone Church followed by shopping and fudge tasting.
Ashton and I wore the Mackinac title of fudgie proudly as we made our way around the fudge capital of the world doing our best to sample and determine which shop makes the best fudge. There are around 13 fudge shops on the Island, and between them, they make so much fudge that the island imports 10 tons of sugar per week. Sampling fudge remains one of the favorite activities of Mackinac visitors, thus visitors are affectionately called fudgies. Chocolate is the most popular fudge. Of course!
By late afternoon, Ashton and I were getting kind of tired, but we had one more must-do thing on our list to accomplish. Take a cab ride!
It was a brisk fall day in September of 1982 when I booked another romantic getaway for Al and me on Mackinac Island. We walked, we explored, we attended a reenactment at the historic Fort Mackinac, but my most memorable moment from that trip was the evening carriage ride to the Inn at Stonecliff.
It was a two bench carriage. The driver gave us a blanket to lay across our lap to help ward off the cold chill in the autumn air. We rode in silence. The only thing we heard was the rhythmic sound of hoofs clippity clapping on the paved road and the rustling of fall leaves. At the restaurant inside the Stonecliff Inn, we were seated near a huge stone fireplace that had been freshly stoked with wood. Al and I enjoyed a wonderful dinner while discussing future plans.
Less than a year later, Al and I exchanged our marriage vows at our turn of the twentieth century themed wedding inspired by our Mackinac Island visits. It was a very romantic wedding, and we were blessed with perfect weather … not an easy feat during the month of June in the Chicago suburbs.
Ah, memories! During this visit with Ashton, I wanted to return to the Inn and since it was a relatively long cab ride, long being relative when you’re on a small island, the Stonecliff Inn would make a great carriage ride destination. We toured the grounds of the inn and then stepped inside. Disappointment waved over me as it didn’t seem the same. Perhaps I missed something or young love had tainted my memory. Regardless, it’s still a beautiful property that served as a great way for my daughter and me to relax and take in another Mackinac experience.
We took the ferry back to the mainland as the sun was setting. We had a fantastic and memorable visit. It was time to get a good night’s sleep considering the long drive in front of us.
Time to Go
We checked out of our hotel room in St. Ignace as the sun was rising over Lake Huron. We had a nice lakefront room with a beautiful view. The Adirondack chairs placed on the beach near the water’s edge were beckoning to be sat upon. However tempting, my thoughts were broken by the realities of the day. We had a long drive ahead of us.
From the town of St. Ignace, we take Highway 2 west through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The scenery along this northern edge of Lake Michigan was nothing all that memorable. The land is flat and covered with thick forest. Ashton remains intrigued by the dense lush forests.
That kind of thick forest landscape would continue for most of our day with the occasional break in trees as we passed through small towns. Near the Michigan – Wisconsin border, we pick up Highway 8 and take it west all the way through Wisconsin to the Mississippi River. We cross the river into Minnesota and then head south traveling along the Mississippi River. The change in scenery was a welcome sight! We enjoyed the drive and cute river towns along the way.
Once we hit Interstate 94, we navigated around Minneapolis and checked into a hotel in Bloomington. We were exhausted. What I thought would be an eight hour driving day, turned into ten. A miscalculation on my part, for sure. Thank goodness Ashton and I took turns driving.
The next morning, we enjoyed waking up slowly and taking our time to get ready for the day. The mall wouldn’t open until 10:00, thus no need to rush. This break was more than needed, and we felt refreshed after the leisurely morning.
By the time 10:00 a.m. rolled around, we were ready to check out of our room and visit Mall of America, America’s largest indoor shopping mall and one of the largest in the world. The structure offers an abundance of stores as well as an amusement park, aquarium, theaters, and restaurants. I had been curious about this place for years and considering it was practically on our route home, this was the perfect opportunity to stop and quench my curiosity.
Architecturally I found the mall somewhat stark, cold, colorless and lacking personality. It was huge, I’ll give it that, but it felt perhaps a little sad. The occasional empty storefronts were clear signs of a struggling economy. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but we were both disappointed and after buying a “Minnesota” T-shirt and grabbing a quick bite to eat at the food court, we were well on our way and entering Iowa. We overnighted somewhere in Nebraska, and the next day, we were back in Colorado.
Once in Colorado, we exited Interstate 76 at the town of Brush and headed south on Highway 71, a two-lane less than scenic country road, and eventually angled our way home. St. Ignace, Michigan to Pueblo West, Colorado – Three days and 1,500 miles later, I was exhausted. I’ll need a lot of rest before I plan my next getaway.
Pronunciation – Whether it’s Mackinac or Mackinaw, the pronunciation is the same: Mack-i-naw. The mainland area was first named Michilimackinac by the Native Americans. By 1715 the French established a strong presence in the area and shortened the name to Mackinac which was more fitting to their own language and while spelled with an “ac” the sound is “aw.” The British took control of the area in 1761, and in 1857 they changed the spelling of the city to the way it sounded, Mackinaw City but left the Island spelling Mackinac Island. In short, the French pronounced it “aw” but spelled it “ac”. The British heard it pronounced “aw” so they spelled it that way. Whichever way you see it spelled, it is always pronounced “aw”. 🧐
There comes a point and time when we could all use a break from the responsibilities of everyday life and the need to interject a little fun becomes a necessity. I usually know when I need such a break, and I was sure feeling the need to have one soon.
It was already the middle of August, and our neglected RV continued to sit on the side of the house untouched all summer. Would our new RV turn out to be rarely used just like our former truck camper? I certainly hoped that wouldn’t be the case, but thus far, it wasn’t looking promising.
August 2011 – Well, we wouldn’t be taking the RV on any excursion this month. We had more pressing matters to attend to. Our daughter’s summer internship in Illinois was coming to an end, and just like I kept her company three months earlier during the 1,100-mile drive from Colorado to Rockford, IL, I planned to do the same and keep her company upon her return journey to Colorado. However, instead of purchasing a one-way flight, Al and I (and the dog) would be driving to Illinois to make those family connections.
Time for a Getaway
Not only was it our goal to connect me with Ashton, but the second purpose behind this trip was also for Al to visit with his mother. She hadn’t been doing well the last several years and appeared to be declining a little more each day. It was important we both return to Illinois. We loaded up the truck and left well before sunrise. Eighteen long driving hours later, we arrived at Al’s sister’s house exhausted. After a good night’s sleep, we were ready to socialize.
With Ashton’s internship over and a few more days to enjoy before hitting the road, we took a day to visit with my dad who lived about an hour’s drive southeast of Rockford in the Chicago suburbs. He seemed to be doing well, yet still adjusting to life alone. It was only four months earlier when mom passed away. Fortunately, Ashton was able to visit with her Opa on a somewhat regular basis throughout the summer. Time she will always treasure.
When the day came for Ashton and me to say our goodbye’s, there were hugs and watery eyes all around! As Ashton and I approached her packed car, Ashton hands me the keys and breaks down into tears. “Mom, I know this is the last time I’ll see grandma alive”. We drove in silence and a few hours later we had skirted around Chicago and the bottom of Lake Michigan and were heading further north into the state of Michigan.
Wait! Colorado is in the opposite direction. Shouldn’t we be heading west? What are we doing in Michigan? Remember that break I needed?
The heck with adulting. Let’s have some fun!
Once in the state of Michigan, I exit the Interstate and opt for a more scenic route along the shores of Lake Michigan. The two-lane road has us traveling through quaint little towns and picturesque scenery. Our thoughts move on to more pleasant topics, and eventually, Ashton asks, “I can’t remember. Where are we going”. “Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes”, I respond, knowing that she has absolutely no clue what I’m talking about. “Okay! Where are we staying?” she continues. “At a campground”, I casually mention.
“MOTHER! YOU CANNOT POSSIBLY BE SERIOUS!” she exclaims. “Of course I am, honey. I packed everything we need. Don’t worry, it’ll be fun”, at least I hope, I quietly say to myself. “Well, do we at least have a reservation”, she questions? “Nope! Worst case scenario, we’ll just sleep in the car somewhere.” She is not amused by my free-spirited lackadaisical response. I was not sounding like the mature responsible parent that she was accustomed to and relied on.
When we arrived at the D H Day Campground late that afternoon, we snagged the last available campsite and set about pitching the tent. You have no idea how grateful I was to have practiced setting up and breaking down that tent numerous times in our living room just a week earlier. Thank you Al for helping me practice, or Ashton and I may have ended up sleeping in the car after all.
Ashton and I looked like a couple of camping pros. Within thirty minutes, we had the tent up and beds made on inflatable air mattresses. With our campsite complete, it was time to explore and check out our surroundings including the lakeshore.
After our shoreline explorations, we went into the town of Glen Arbor to stroll the shops and find a place for dinner.
Ashton was drawn into a small spice and tea shop. For the first time in days, I saw her face light up. The previous year, she had spent a semester studying abroad in Sydney, Australia, and acquired a taste for tea (as well as wine, but that’s another story). As she excitedly flitted about the store, she engaged in conversation with the store clerk. I could see the stress from her, somewhat less than fun, summer begin to fade away. A few purchases later, she and I were strolling up the street heading toward the nearest restaurant.
The skies were dark by the time we returned to camp. Therefore, we retreated to the comfort of our tent where we engaged in a series of card games. I had brought along cute little battery-operated lanterns, emphasis on cute, that provided just the right ambiance for an evening of laughter.
The next morning, after a so-so night of sleep, I was nudging Ashton to get out of bed. I had brought a bin for us to wash up and some homemade muffins to get us through the morning. I had an agenda … let’s check out those dunes. We quickly broke camp and were on our way long before most people were even awake.
Photographs fail to capture the sheer size and magnitude of these stunning sand dunes. There are miles upon miles of sandy beaches with bluffs towering as high as 450 feet above Lake Michigan. As much as we were tempted to run down that dune, logic stepped in. It might take us less than 30 minutes to get to the bottom but would take literally hours to climb back up. Yeah, not going to happen!
Instead, we head on over to the popular “Dune Climb” where it’s a more manageable size dune to climb. Since it was still early in the morning, we practically had the place to ourselves. Ashton decides to take a closer look to see if this dune is something she’d like to tackle.
It doesn’t take long before she and I agree that we really don’t have the time to play around in the sand. Besides, we have a few more scenic spots to explore before we continue on our journey.
The two-lane roads take us through lush dense forests that Ashton becomes smitten with. I’d forgotten, while this type of northern Midwestern landscape was quite normal to me considering I grew up in the Midwest, Ashton was three years old when we moved west to a much more arid climate. She had never seen such a green dense forest before and found it fascinating.
We found Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore to be an extremely peaceful and serene place and noticed ourselves frequently taking in deep breathes and gazing out at our surroundings. It’s a magical place as well as perplexing. The landscape had a calming effect on both of us and turned out to be the perfect first stop on our mother/daughter getaway.
And I needed that sense of calm before crossing a certain bridge later that day …
July 2010 – With my signature complete, I slide the paperwork back over to the salesman. It’s official. Al and I just bought a new RV. Since it’s still on the Keystone assembly line in Elkhart, Indiana, we’ll have to wait a couple of months to take it home. Perfect, that’ll give us a great opportunity to get in one or two more trips with our underutilized truck camper before trading it in.
September 2010, we make the one-hour drive from our home in Pueblo West, Colorado, to the RV Dealership located in the quaint Colorado mountain town of Poncha Springs. We drop off our beloved truck camper and return home with a new 2011 Keystone Laredo 5th wheel in tow.
The drive between Pueblo West and Poncha Springs is a beautiful scenic drive. However, Highway 50 just west of Canon City, turns into a two-lane road that meanders along the Arkansas River. There are lots of curves, rock walls, and narrow spots with no shoulder and no room for error. Al was a little nervous navigating this stretch of road while pulling something as large as our new thirty-one-foot 5th wheel for the very first time. There was no opportunity for him to practice or get a feel for the RV on a wider or more open road before taking our new toy home.
Little did we know what RV adventures awaited. A mere two years later, driving this same stretch of highway was no longer a big deal and just another typical travel route in our RVing world.
Our shake down trip
In the RVing community, it’s highly recommended that owners of a new (or new to them) RV take their RV on a “shakedown” outing. This means camping near home at the nearest RV Park or campground and staying for at least a couple of nights to try out all the mechanics. This is a great opportunity to get comfortable with how everything works, make a punch list for warranty issues, and review gear.
Fortunately for us, at the time, we lived just three miles from the Lake Pueblo State Park making our first trip conveniently close to home and perfect in the event we needed any tools or forgot to pack something. With that said, it should’ve been uneventful. It wasn’t.
On our second day of camping, I accidentally locked myself out of the RV. While Al went to one of our job sites, I took the dog for a short walk. (We ran our own custom home building business back then.) Since I wouldn’t be gone long, I left my phone and keys in the RV. When I returned from the stroll, I was unable to open the door. Fortunately, one of the neighbors noticed my distress and came over to see if I needed help. He lent me his phone so I could call Al, only to find out, he too had left his set of RV keys on the dinette table.
Turns out, this helpful neighbor had spent twenty years working in the RV industry. He suggested two choices; call a pricey locksmith or this seasoned RVer could grab his tools and pry the door open. However, he first looked around the campground for any other Keystone brand RV. Why? Because various brands are usually keyed the same. Unfortunately, he owned a Forest River Wildcat, but had there been another Keystone in camp, chances are those keys might have opened our door. Crazy, huh! (Note to self – change the locks.)
After about 15 minutes, our Good Samaritan had pried open our door leaving behind a little bent metal door frame which only Al and I notice. Serves as a reminder to never fiddle with the door lock lever on the inside prior to exiting which caused the door to lock behind me.
The education continues …
The rest of our Pueblo Reservoir stay was uneventful and enjoyable … kind of. Lists were made. Al needed tools and I needed to outfit the kitchen better. We both needed more practice hitching, unhitching, and leveling the RV, but that would come with time.
Eventually, our stay came to an end, and we headed off to the campground dump station. Al unpackaged the new sewer hose and prepared to connect it to the RV pipe. With a slight hesitation, he unscrewed the pipe cap and was immediately met with a flood of “yellow-tinged water” spilling everywhere and soaking his tennis shoes. Apparently, our new RV was delivered to us with the tank valves open, and being such a newbie, Al failed to double-check that the tank valves were closed before unscrewing the cap.
After a few choice words, Al and I busted out laughing. Thank goodness no one else was around to witness this nasty mistake. Oh well, nothing a bunch of soap and water couldn’t fix. No harm done. Another lesson learned with plenty of more lessons to come.
Back to Storage
After our short camping trip, it was time to return the RV to storage. Three months earlier, we had sold our large custom home and moved into a rental while we built a smaller home. Our friends were kind enough to offer us a place to store the RV until our new home on an acre of land was finished, complete with a place to park the RV.
Our friends, Gene and Wendy, also recently purchased a new RV. With the RVs comfortably stored alongside each other, the four of us discussed plans for future Colorado RV adventures together with our new toys.
A couple of weeks later, Gene and Wendy wanted to reposition the RVs on their land. No problem! Al and I headed over to their place. While the Wendy and I sat in the house talking about places we wanted to camp, the guys were outside dealing with the two RVs. About an hour later, the guys walked into the house, and with a dejected look, Al glances at me and says, “I’m sorry, but I crunched the RV.” Say what? “What exactly does crunch mean?”
Seems the landing jacks wouldn’t engage meaning the RV could not be raised up in order to hitch it to the truck. These two handy MacGyvers made a critical error on where to place the car jack while manually jacking up the RV resulting in a little accordion-style body damage. Oops! And she’s less than thirty days old.
Okay, now that’s she’s broken in with a little bent metal from the lock situation and a slightly smooshed front corner from the faulty jacks, let’s take this less than new RV out on the road and have some fun with it. Adventure awaits!