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2014 Adventure Wrap-Up

image_map.gif We’ve now wrapped up our 2014 Adventure.  Our destination was the great northwestern United States with a focus on the Pacific coast.  It was a wonderful trip – really, everything we hoped it would be.  Early in our journey we found southeastern Utah to be a pleasant surprise.  We’ve heard so much about the vicinity of Moab; especially Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.  These were even better than we expected and some of the most beautiful spots we’ve ever been.

P8019712.JPG We spent a couple of months visiting different places along the Washington coast and then another month along the Oregon coast.  We loved it all and I especially enjoyed the splendor of the Oregon coast.  If a person loves nature they will love that area.

We continued into northern California and soon moved inland to the Sacramento area and points east and south.  After wearing jackets and even needing heat in the camper the warm temperatures were a shock to the system.  Still, camping along the whitewater of the American River and then staying in the high country of Yosemite was a real pleasure.

P9259743.JPG It was with some sadness that we turned east and headed for Arizona because that meant we were now winding down our big Adventure.  Still, we’re talking about Arizona here; long one of our favorite states.  We spent a month there, working our way from the northwest corner of the state to ultimately exit at the southeast corner.

Before long we were back in Texas – enjoying the splendor of the state’s southwest.  We’ve always liked the Texas State Parks and it was a pleasure to visit three of them, especially Davis Mountains State Park, as we worked our way east.

After almost seven months we’ve now arrived back where the Adventure began: Lake Conroe Thousand Trails. We towed the 5th wheel about 6300 miles and then drove about the same distance sightseeing and “just living.”  We stayed in about 40 different campgrounds, generally for a week and a half at a time with several shorter stays when we were in “repositioning mode.”  In January I’ll release our budget figures but we pretty much stayed on target through the year.

It was a great trip and I’m already looking forward to return visits to and through these areas.

Campground Review: SKP Saguaro Co-Op – Benson, AZ

We loved it at the Escapees SKP Saguaro Co-Op in Benson, AZ. In some ways it is my favorite campground to date. The resort was designed by and for fulltime RVers who are members of Escapees. The fulltime philosophy and common sense approach is evident everywhere from the wide, paved roads to the excellent and much used activity center.

PHOTO_20141009_164903.jpgThe sites are both deep and wide. Almost all of them are leased and sport various levels of improvements. Many have “casitas” which are small buildings with porches. Every improvement, though, is subject to a strict set of rules that allow for some personalization, but at the same time, maintain a level of conformity. Most casitas have a living room and a utility room in them. The sites are all gravel but leaseholders decorate them with cactus gardens and other decorations. Here’s the deal: when the leaseholder is out seeing the country, they can put their site in the rental pool. Travelers who rent don’t have use of the casita, but generally there’s a nice porch and other upgrades to enjoy. Many of these sites can be rented monthly if a person desires a longer stay. The lease program is so popular that there’s a years-long waiting list for an opportunity to buy in!

There are other sites that are set aside, some for short term visitors and others for long term visitors who come in for the winter. There are even paved no-hookup overnight spots.

PHOTO_20141013_194512.jpg Escapees are known for their friendliness and that is quite evident here. There are get-togethers every day and many activities. People go out of their way to introduce themselves and it’s quite easy to strike up a conversation. We especially enjoyed the daily 4:00 fellowship gathering in the activity center. Our stay was in mid-October and daily leaseholders who had been touring in cooler places arrived to settle down for the mild Arizona winter.

100_3438.JPGThe property has no pool or spa and reservations are not accepted. Escapees facilities are famous for always finding a place for a traveler to park their RV even it has to temporarily be a spot with no hookups. The activity center has a large meeting room with a full-sized commercial kitchen, a large library, a workout room with modern equipment, and a crafts room. There’s also a nice porch with a view of the valley below and the Dragoon Mountains. This view is especially pretty at sunset.

If you get the idea that I like this place you are 100% right!

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2014 – Sightseeing in Southeastern Arizona

We enjoyed our time in Southeastern Arizona. Our RV Resort, located in Benson, was a great place to stay while exploring the area.

PA119802.JPG We happened to be in Benson on the weekend of the Benson-Butterfield Rodeo. The local parade was fun and very much a local parade with city officials, children on bicycles, and several horse and rider groups. After the parade we walked through the craft fair and farmers market and the city museum. One thing that made the rodeo especially fun was hearing the locals cheer their friends as they performed and rode. I especially enjoyed the fast action of the barrel racing. The young ladies are very skillful and the horses are beautiful and well trained.

IMG_3210.JPG Another highlight of our stay was a day trip to Tombstone and Bisbee. The Main Street of Tombstone is foot traffic and stage coach only. Many of the buildings are historic and it looks like an Old West town with lots of cowboys dressed in period clothing hanging out along the street. Many of them are participants in one of the “shootout at the OK Corrale” re-enactments that you can watch for a price. The cowboys are happy to pose with tourists for photos or just talk about their town. There are a wide variety of shops and restaurants to visit. I would love to come on one of their special event days. Most of the programs charge a fee but you can pick and choose or just wander around town and have fun.

IMG_3221.JPG Leaving Tombstone we drove on down to Bisbee to take the Queen Mine Historic Mine Tour. After buying our tickets we looked a the displays and watched a video about mining. When they called our tour we lined up and were given hard hats, slickers, and miners headlamps. We then went out and got on a small tram that took us down into the mine. Two guides gave us a great tour telling us how the mine was laid out and what it was like to be the miner. They demonstrated the tools they used and talked about the dangers they faced. At two places we got off the tram and walked down the tunnels to see what it would have looked like to the miners. It was both educational and fun and we highly recommend not only the mine tour, downtown Bisbee which is a unique experience in itself.

We know we hardly scratched the surface of interesting things to see and do in this area. On future trips we’ll check out the “Cochise Circle” of historic places related to the great Indian Chief, Wonderland of the Rocks at Chiricahua National Monument, and so much more.

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Shortstop: Countryside RV Resort – Apache Junction, AZ

100_3410.JPG We have around 60 RV parks in our Thousand Trails membership. However, Thousand Trails is owned by Encore which has many other RV Parks, Condos, Time Shares, etc. Some of the Encore RV resorts allow Thousand Trails members to come in at a discount. It’s such an offer that brings us to Countryside RV Resort in Apache Junction, AZ for a three night stay. This town is in the eastern most part of the Phoenix metro area and the beautiful Superstition Mountains are quite nearby.

100_3433.JPG This is primarily a “snow bird” park that fills with folks escaping the northern winters. Road after road is filled with “park model” trailers, most of them older but well kept. Most have some level of site improvement such as car ports or a built-on rooms or landscaping. The sites are small and folks find ways to make use of every square inch of space. The RV sites sport a small concrete slab and utility hookups. These sites are also rather small, especially those that abut against the park model sites which, as I say, are making use of every inch of space. The only trees are tall palm trees which are picturesque but offer no shade.

100_3422.JPG Our early October stay put us in the resort just ahead of the first winter arrivals so the property was very quiet and empty feeling. There are people around. Apparently, they stay year around – weathering the Phoenix furnace-like summers. In a month or less I’m guessing this place will be filling up with it’s 55+ crowd of winter people.

At the heart of the campground is an Activity Center and pool. There’s a large meeting hall and library plus a billiards room, post office, shuffleboard, and other amenities. I think it would be interesting to try this place out in January-March when things are in full swing.

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Sightseeing review: Cottonwood, Sedona, Jerome, AZ

We enjoyed our time in the Sedona/Cottonwood/Jerome, AZ area.  To be honest, though, we mostly relaxed at the campground doing a few needed chores.

100_3372.JPG One outing took us to Dead Horse Ranch State Park just outside of Cottonwood. Our visit was on a free admission day for the public and there was an extra effort to show how fun the park could it be. Lots of people were taking advantage of the fishing license waiver that was in place for the day.  Not only was it a no-license-required day, but the lagoons were freshly stocked with fish and the park service was loaning out fishing gear and providing bait!  The community participates in this day providing everything from rafting on the Verde River to a climbing wall that was getting lots of activity.  There were several food and craft booths along with booths providing information about fish and wild life, prevention of forest fires, etc.  We enjoyed listening to a local volunteer choir sing.  Other performances were scheduled through the rest of the day.  However, as we walked around the area it became more and more obvious that the forecasted rain was about to begin.  As we left the park a downpour began!  Later on we saw in the news that the rain did, indeed, wash out the event, even stranding a 100 people or so who were “flooded in” for a while!

IMG_3018.JPG A memorable sightseeing tour for us was driving down Sedona’s stunning Oak Creek Canyon.  We drove north on the interstate to the south side of Flagstaff and then began our drive down State Route 89a.  We stopped at the top of the canyon at the Oak Creek Visitor Center and were helped by a very friendly local volunteer with maps and directions. There were also several craft booths with Native American crafts set up offering items for viewing and purchasing. The view of the highway twisting and turning as it drops into the canyon below is very interesting.  As we continued south we were disappointed that all pullouts were closed due to a danger of flash floods.  After the episode at the state park a few days earlier we were understanding of the flash flood situation but we couldn’t help but notice that there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and there was zero chance of rain for the entire central part of the state!  I enjoyed the scenery and Scott saw as much as he could from the driver’s side of the pickup!  We continued south into Sedona were we went to the airport scenic overlook.  Here we both thoroughly enjoyed the wonderful view. 

IMG_3078.JPG On south of Sedona we drove the Red Rock Scenic Byway. I particularly enjoyed stopping at the Chapel of the Holy Cross.  It is a quiet, moving place in the middle of the beauty of God’s creation. Near the end of the canyon we stopped at the Red Rock Ranger Station and took a break. The view there is fantastic and the center itself is full of information about the area’s geological past, early Native Americans and settlers, as well as information about the firefighters who help protect the forest. I thought the sculptures of the rattlesnake and wild pigs were very cute.  I highly recommend this drive to everyone.

IMG_3107.JPG A short distance from Cottonwood is Jerome — a city built on the side of a mountain with a marvelous view of the Verde Valley. Jerome was a mining town and across the years it produced over a billion dollars in copper, gold and silver.  There were two mines there.  The first was the United Verde Mine and the second was the Little Daisy mine which was owned by James Stewart Douglas. We stopped at Jerome State Historic Park and toured the museum in the Douglas Mansion which is built over the Little Daisy Mine.  The video of the city of Jerome and the mining industry there was fun and informational. Most of the rooms have city and mining memorabilia but the family library is still set up and the billiard room has a billiard table and a piano that belonged to the family.  From the park we continued into Jerome and found the streets are as narrow, steep, and twisting as advertised.  There is public parking making it easy for those who want to shop or eat.  Many of the original buildings are still in use although some are now private homes. We drove up and through the town to a scenic overlook.  It is an exceptional view.  From the overlook I looked up the mountain and spotted a trestle from the mining days.

We enjoyed looking around the area and know that there is much more that we didn’t see.  Really, though, that’s part of the fun of our touring lifestyle.  We plan on returning and will continue our exploration of this area then.

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Campground Review: Verde Valley Thousand Trails, Cottonwood, AZ

We’ve enjoyed our time here at Verde Valley Thousand Trails, just south of Cottonwood, AZ. Off hand I say this particular Thousand Trails is one of our favorites so far. The campground is bordered by the Verde River, which can flash flood into impressive proportions but is generally a docile stream and not really visible from the campground. The setting is desert but with enough trees to provide some welcome shade. Many campsites have patches of green grass which is watered and protected by “keep pets off the grass” signs.

100_3378.JPG There are three camping areas. One area, “M Section,” is reserved for long term residents and out of play for those of us who are touring the country. The second area, “H Section” is near the primary Activity Center. This is where the restaurant and store are and where there’s live music a few nights each week. There’s also a nifty mini-golf course – one of the nicest we’ve seen in a Thousand Trails.

100_3385.JPG The third area, “B and C Section,” is farther from the gate but is near a very nice pool and spa, the pickleball courts, playground, and another nice lodge. (There’s another, more distant campground, “A Section,” that is designated for group camping.)

I’d say that the second and third campground areas are both attractive choices. If you plan to use the pool you’ll want B and C Section. If you want to be a bit closer to the Activity Center (and campground exit for that matter) you’ll want H Section.

There are premium 50 amp sites scattered around the campground and people who use them pay an extra fee of $3, $4, or $5 for using them. I’m sure there’s a reason for the differing amounts but I don’t know what it is.

100_3382.JPG There are a variety of campsite configurations. Many of those that are pull through are “double sites” in which two campers are parked back to back, pointing in opposite directions. However, even in that configuration there’s usually a larger “front yard” that is shared with the one of the campers in the next double site. It’s a workable setup and those sites are quite popular. We picked a back in site that is rather deep but not very wide. As it turned out we didn’t have neighbors on either side of us so we had plenty of elbow room.

The campground has added cabins and, in addition to the campground set aside specifically for long term use has sold several sites for annual use. Still, there have been many nice sites available all the time we’ve been here. This, though, is a popular campground and there are certain times of the year when it is full.

This campground is a real winner for Thousand Trails and we’re already looking forward to future visits here.

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A day at Grand Canyon, AZ

Our last visit to the Grand Canyon was in 1985 and our return for a day’s visit there reminded us of just what a amazing place it is. We took many pictures but we know they can’t begin to show the depth and color we enjoyed. In addition to the canyon views we saw three condors soaring above us at one overlook. We also saw elk wandering around the park which was an added plus. There are free shuttles and everything from walking trails to major league, challenging hikes to the canyon floor allowing people at all levels of fitness and time the opportunity to enjoy the park. This trip should be on everyone’s bucket list.

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Shortstop: Canyon Gateway RV Park – Williams, AZ

PHOTO_20140924_142901.jpg This RV Park is a couple of minutes from I40; a good spot for those traveling and in need of a place to land for the night. It’s also about 60 miles south of the Grand Canyon. Both the I40 and the Grand Canyon proximity made Canyon Gateway RV Park in Williams, AZ a good shortstop for us. Admittedly, there’s some traffic noise off the Interstate but we didn’t find it to be especially objectionable. They are building a truck stop adjacent to the campground, so in the future being sandwiched between the highway less than a mile away on one side and the truck stop on the other noise may become an issue.

Still, I see this as a good spot for a short stay. The sites are level with full hookups. The restrooms and showers were very clean and the campground offers decent WiFi and even a few channels of cable TV. In addition to the mega attraction of the Grand Canyon being an hour away, downtown Williams is a fun place to visit. After a stroll up and down the main street we especially enjoyed our meal at the Pine Country Restaurant and recommend it. Williams also is where the Grand Canyon Railroad begins. This RV Park doesn’t pretend to be a destination, but it works well for travelers as well as folks who want to spend a day at one of our nation’s most visited, and beautiful, national parks.

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Shortstop: Sunrise RV Park – Kingman, AZ

After a 300 mile drive across the Mojave desert – past the famous mothballed aircraft field, Edwards AFB, Boron (and Twenty Mule Team Road) – we arrived at Sunrise RV park in Kingman, AZ for a one night stay. Using our Passport America discount we paid $17.50 and were assigned one of the drive through sites. We have 50 amp, full hookups although the sewer is way at the back of the site and situated in such a way that it is almost uphill from the camper.

We have neighbors just a few feet away on either side of us and some kind of discount Marriott motel is looking down on us from across the street. Still, for an overnight this works just fine. The restrooms are clean, the roads are paved, the interstate is just a few minutes away, and the sites are pretty level. The campground offers free WiFi but I found it very slow and went back to my Verizon 4G. There are restaurants in walking distance. For an “in town” RV park that can be had for the price we’re paying it will do just fine.

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