My mom's cousins, Steve and Donna, invited us to their house about an hour north of Tucson today. They live in Durango fulltime, but have a second home at a retirement community in Arizona. They invited us over for swimming and smoked brisket.
We are in Tucson courtesy parking at some friends' house. Our arrival in Tucson was the most difficult parking job we've had, yet...by far. It was a jigsaw puzzle with trailers and trucks as the pieces. We ended up having to back the Airstream up a driveway between the chain link fence and the cactus garden. At one point the turn was so tight we had to unhitch and reposition the truck to make the turn. But we made it and now have water, sewer, and 15 amp electricity.
We are parked under a carport for shade and there is a grapefruit tree right next to us. Outside the front door is a treehouse and our hosts have even provided a playmates for our children.
Our hosts are incredibly accommodating, and we've already learned a ton from them and the 3 other RV families that are courtesy parking here, too. One family is writing a book together. Another one was showing us impressive decline push-ups on the picnic table. Their kids are teaching our kids about Minecraft (an iPad game Silas got for Christmas). We now know what a cajon is (box-type drum you sit on and play) and have enjoyed hearing it played around the campfire. Most importantly we have met families who are rearranging their lives to accommodate environments for learning, exploring, and creating stronger relationships with each other.
We had no idea what to expect when we arrived at Sabino Canyon. It started off well because our National Park Pass got us in the gate for free. Then we went in the visitors center to inquire about hikes and the Jr. Ranger Program. We were handed a packet of about 5 sheets of paper of questions and pictures of plants and animals and told to take the 1/4 mile natural trail to answer the questions. Sure, we thought...piece of cake. So we decided to head a mile down the path to the dam so we could play in the water first and do the nature trail at the end. The walk was enjoyable, but nothing too strenuous or exciting. At one point Silas said "The end better be worth this walk." And it was. We found a little stream with rocks and boulders that were perfect for a young boy to navigate. The sun was hot and the water was ice cold. We all enjoyed the stop.
When we got back from the hike, we started the 1/4 mile nature trail so the kids could earn their badge. We all learned a ton about the desert on this short trail. We read every sign and answered questions about each plant or animal. Here are a few samplings of what we learned:
The Arizona state tree, the Palo Verde tree, has green bark because the leaves are not big enough to provide adequate food for the tree. The bark helps in photosynthesis.
Saguaro cacti (the big ones with arms reaching up to the sky) usually grow in a bush or small tree in the beginning so they will be protected from the elements and have a better start. They then out live their "nurse trees" and stand tall and alone when they are more mature. Their roots stem out from their base 100 feet, but are only a couple inches below the surface of the ground.
There are many different types of chulla cacti...teddy bear chulla, chain fruit chulla, etc. However, all of them are painful if touched a have a tendency to "jump" out at a passerby because the slightest brush up against them will cause them to dislodge part of the plant.
The 1/4 mile nature trail ended up taking much longer than we expected. By the time we finished, it was growing cooler and the sun was near setting. We rushed over to the visitor's center to collect the Jr. Ranger badges and certificates, but they were already closed. It was disappointing for all of us. So, we headed back to our "little home" (as Morgan calls it) and Troy promised to bring them back the next day to get their badges. On the return trip the next day, an open air shuttle trip up the mountain was in order. It took about 45 minutes to ride roundtrip and had 8 stops that you can get on and off as many times as you like. The day ended with an exciting trip to the laundry mat.
We stayed in our first Walmart parking lot last night in Palm Desert, CA. All the campgrounds here are pricy at $60-110 per night. We had full water, full batteries, and empty waste tanks, so why not stay somewhere free?
Palm Desert was actually pretty fabulous. Mountains all around and a Costco. What more can you ask for. However, when we walked into Costco, we thought we had mistakenly walked into a retirement center. We were the youngest by far. Please don't think that I am against old people. I would have been just as shocked to find a store full of teenagers or 2 year olds. The sheer number of this particular age group is what was notable. There were young old people all the way up to old old people. The only people under 65 were the ones working the checkouts. After taking a stroll down EVERY aisle (Troy-ism), we ate beef brisket, salad, and a raspberry smoothie for a late lunch.
I went shopping BY MYSELF at Walmart that evening. It has only been since having kids that I've learned to enjoy a grocery trip - alone. Now that we are in the Airstream, that alone time is even more precious. Shopping at Walmart seemed the right thing to do since we were parking in their lot for free. Silas got a new pair of cowboy boots because Troy and I are tired of him taking so long to put his lace up tennis shoes on all the time. He also got a pair of those squiggly shoelaces that don't require you to tie them. Hopefully these two items will make our lives easier. Morgan got a $4 sundress because I brought too many long sleeved shirts for her on our trip. They were both thrilled with their gifts, and we now had food to last us through our next few days of boondocking at Quartzsite, AZ.
The Walmart parking lot was quiet, safe, and we were tucked against a retaining wall, so it felt very cozy. There was also a Starbucks just across the parking lot that I walked to in the morning to get some work done while Troy and the kids did their school work.
It was an easy day because we only drove 1 hour down the road to our next stop...Desert Center, CA. It was a tiny town with a 55 years old and older resort called Lake Tamarisk RV Resort. They let us stay the night there since we were just passing through. Rumor has it that years ago it used to be an Airstream only park, but after a tornado caused severe damage, it was rebuilt as a 55+ resort. Some people are in RV's while others are in little houses. We were right next to the office which housed the laundry room, the showers, and the pool. I even had a quiet place to work in the club house the next day, and the brand new playground was only a short walk away. We did not want to leave and definitely hope to stay there again someday!
"I'm never ever coming here again. I don't like oceans, sand, or tide pools." (Morgan, age 3) She did not like getting her feet wet or touching icky things. All she wanted to do was go back to the beach entrance and play at the playground in the sand.
Part of her dislike stemmed from the fact that we parked at the wrong end of the beach and had to walk 30 minutes down the beach to get to the tide pools. By that time she was tired. Also, the tide was starting to coming back in, so we didn't get to explore all of it. If you go there, check the tides and go just before the peak of the low tide.
The tide pools that we explored were fascinating. They had pools of their own on top of the rocks and were in a bigger pool below. There were clumps of living shells all over them and tons of sea anemones. We had fun touching them and watching them close up. They have lots of little "fingers" that feel tacky when they are open. When they close, the fingers disappear inside and there are shells on the outside, maybe to help them blend in or protect them from other hungry things?
We saw the place we should have entered the beach. It was a steep staircase coming down from the bluffs. So if you ever come here, be prepared to walk 30 minutes one way down the beach or do a lot of stairs.
Our walk back to the truck was framed by a gorgeous sunset. It gave us a chance to capture some interesting sunset silhouette pictures. The grand finale was playing on the playground until the last bits of daylight slipped away.
Thank you Leigh from Aluminarium! My family loves these. I left out the coconut flakes and substituted maple syrup for the agave nectar, but they still turned out fabulous. This was also the first time I ever used our combo microwave/convection oven for baking. Since I realized AFTER I already mixed everything up that I didn't have a cookie sheet, I baked the cookies in a pyrex bowl. I could only cook a few at a time, so it took forever...but it was worth it.
After loving these so much, I went to Walmart and bought a 12 inch round cookie sheet for the next time I make these. Got it back to the Airstream and there were little handles on it which made it too big to fit in the convection oven. Fortunately, we were boondocking that night in the Walmart parking lot, so I was able to return the pan and walk across the street to Kohls. I knew they would have a large selection of perfect small, round cookie sheets. Wrong. They had the same ONE as Walmart. So, I ended up buying a square brownie dish. It mostly works, but the corner catches as the turntable goes round and it doesn't have all the surface area I had hoped for. I made the kids chocolate chip cookies on my new pan tonight and am about to try my second batch of breakfast cookies. Last time I only made a 1/2 batch just in case we didn't like them. They were all gone at breakfast. This time I want leftovers for another morning, so we are going to do a full batch. I highly recommend this recipe. Not only do they taste great, but their ingredient list includes ground flax, coconut oil, nuts, dried fruit, and oats. So they basically rock in the nutritional arena and are vegan and gluten free. It could be the way my convection oven cooked them, but mine were a little crumbly, so make them small "one-bite" sized or eat over a bowl and spoon up all the goodies that fall off at the end.
We left San Diego and travelled up the coast to Guajome State Park near Oceanside, CA. It is about 6 miles inland from the beach, but the camping is much cheaper and has more amenities. So, after settling in, going to the playground, and sending Troy to the grocery store, we decided to head to the beach.
The ranger at the campground told us about the Oceanside peer. It is one of the longest in the US at almost 2000 feet long. It's FREE to walk and fish and someone had already paid our parking meter for 3 hours before we got there. Score! It's a long walk in the wind down the peer, but the different sea birds along the way make it enjoyable. Morgan was upset because she thought the pelicans were eagles. Silas just wanted to see a shark. Troy was making a beeline for fish and chips waiting at the end of the peer at Ruby's Diner. I was freezing, so anything out of the wind sounded great to me. Note to self...ALWAYS take a jacket to the beach.
After our snack, we played on the beach and watched the sun go down again. It never gets old. There was also a playground in the sand directly behind us, so it was like cookies in one hand and cake in the other. Happy kids. Happy Parents.
We really enjoyed our visit to Oceanside, especially this time of year. There were no crowds, plenty of parking, the pier and surrounding area was immaculate, and the sunset continued to increase in beauty even after the sun was down. I tried to take pictures, but they did not do it justice. If you ever have the chance, pay a visit to this charming town.
We know you will never forgive us for taking your grand children away for such a long trip, so we want to dedicate this blog post to you. Maybe it will help you forgive us just a little.
Ode to Nana and Pawpaw:
We like the snakes that swim in the lake.
But we love you more than a dinosaur.
The only zoo we know is the St. Louis Zoo. We love it because it's pretty awesome and FREE. You can see most things in about 3 hours. So when the San Diego Zoo charged us $30-40 per person to get in, you can imagine our shock. In our minds, we planned to be there a typical "zoo day" and then head to Old Town San Diego to walk around. But that was not to be. We stayed until the zoo closed at 5pm, so we were there 7-8 hours!
We rode the tour bus and the skyline lift and saw pandas, baby giraffes, and koala bears. We were awestruck (at least Troy and I) by the lushness of the zoo and the topography. At the Scripps Aviary, the path just kept going down, down, down with layer upon layer of paths, plants, and animals. The kids were troopers, but we did breakdown and rent a double stroller.
Silas and Troy rode the sky lift 3 times, but I was happy to stay on the ground. I don't know what happened to me, but after having children, I seem to have developed a fear of heights. So, Morgan and I got a soda and ate an apple on a bench while taking silly pictures of ourselves.
The last time Troy was in San Diego was when he was stationed in the Navy 25 years ago. He attended the Naval School of Health Sciences near Balboa Park. This is the building he in which he attended classes, and the picture below is of his old barracks.
It was fun to reflect on those days and realizing how much he's changed as a person. He was only 19, and coming to San Diego was his first time he had left the state of Missouri and his first time on an airplane. Everything was new.
We crossed our first mountain pass with the Airstream. Leaving Anza Borrego for San Diego was a windy, steep drop-off kind of road via Julian. Since I have a new aversion to heights, being closest to the drop off-y edge was stressful. I don't think it helped that I was in the beginning stages of my bout with the stomach flu. By the time we reached flat land, I was grumpy and Silas was car sick. Much to our delight, he puked his little insides out later that evening.
However, before we reached the civilized interstate we had to bust into our emergency 5 gallon diesel can that Troy keeps in the truck. On the mountain pass, we found diesel right where we thought it would be, but the gas station was WAY too small to get our truck and trailer in and back out again. That 5 gallons took us 45 miles to another almost-as-tiny-gas station. But it worked out and we were able to fill up.
Making it to San Diego Sweetwater County Campground was thrilling for us. We had dreamed of coming to San Diego, but we also had made it to the end of the trip West. We could go no farther. Now we could mentally know that we could stop pressing forward.
We watched the sun go down over the ocean the first day in town. I was sick with the stomach flu the second day in town. On the third afternoon we were able to spend some time at the beach. Besides nearly freezing to death, it was a fantastic time. Silas practiced his football throwing skills and Morgan chased seagulls.
Between work and illness, we didn't really get to see much while in Anza Borrego. However, our last day there, our friend Rich Luhr took us out in the afternoon to see the prehistoric metal sculptures and the Slot Canyon. The sculpture were interesting, but the Slot Canyon was AMAZING. We absolutely loved weaving our way through the narrow tunnels created by the rainy season. If you are caught in the slot canyon when a flash flood comes, you are out of options. Although the day we were there was sunny and clear, it was eerie knowing that we were stuck at the bottom with no way out in a hurry.
One of our neighbors was a sword swallowing couple that travels the country doing shows. They delighted everyone within ear shot with a mini show that entertained and horrified our children.
We stayed in the comfort and safety of the state park for two nights while Troy recovered from his stomach virus. Then we hitched up and relocated 5 miles down the road to what looked like a random desert field. This was going to be our first long term (3 nights) experience with boondocking or dry camping as some people call it. It means that you are self contained with water, electricity, heat, food, bathrooms, etc. So for us, it was a lesson in conservation.
Another side effect of boondocking was that our limited amount of fresh water required us to reset the bar on how often it was appropriate to shower. Daily? Not out here. Every other day? Maybe. But who's counting?
Breathe. Reflect. Enjoy. Finally.
"I was particularly gratified when Troy turned to me and said he was having that peculiar sensation you get when you actually see something in person that you had previously known only from photographs in National Geographic. I know that feeling—it’s one of the reasons we travel."
From the Man in the Maze blog post "Old fashion socializing" by Rich Luhr of Airstream Life
I could just post a beautiful picture of the sunset and talk about the breath-taking vastness of this desert destination. Or reflect on how it was formed, or give you the best campground in the area to stay at while visiting this location. But I'm not. Instead, I want to paint a word picture of our experience here. In our little family's life, this was nothing less than an Adventure with a capital A.
"Hey, let's go see the sunset at Fonts Point at 4:30," said our friend Rich Luhr. Great! We like sunsets and it is only 4 miles away. Count us in. At 4:30, we load the kids in the car and drive out of our flat desert boondocking site. We drive about 1 mile down the road and turn off onto a path through the desert. Not a road, just a well-traveled sandy path. Very sandy. Very bumpy. We are in the very same truck with stiff suspension that nearly bounced my children out during both pregnancies on paved roads. On this desert path, our bodies were tossed in every direction and jiggled in every joint. Keep in mind that Troy is still recovering from a 24 hour stomach virus he had yesterday. He is still sore from puking and a bit of nausea still remains. This trip to Fonts Point to see the sunset, was not turning out to be the peaceful trip we had imagined. The four miles seemed like forty miles, but we finally arrived with our friends waiting for us at the path to the top of the overlook.
The kids were excited and the bumpy "road" was like shaking up a can of Pepsi. They exploded out of the truck with giggles, jumping, running, and silliness. They ran ahead of us up the path. The seemingly innocent, sandy path. Imagine walking up a large sand dune where you would normally expect to see an ocean pop out on the other side. However, we were in the desert. I was not prepared for what I saw at the top. Disclaimer...I admit that Rich told me that there was a big drop off at the end, but with everything being the same color of brown sand, my depth perception was off and I didn't realize that we were suddenly at the end of the path. Fortunately, I was holding Morgan's hand because her legs were getting tired from the climb, but Silas was ahead of us by about 20 feet. He stopped suddenly and I took a picture of him before realizing that he was standing 2 feet from the edge of a terrifying drop off. I'm talking about a serious, throw-a-rock-and-never-hear-it-land kind of drop off. There was no sign, no railing, no change in the colors that might indicate a drop off so significant. My heart stopped. I can't really remember what I said, but I remember grabbing Silas and pulling him back from the edge while my own legs trembled. I was in utter shock that somehow we had allowed our son to run ahead toward a certain death if he had slipped, tripped, or just not stopped soon enough.
The view was stunning. But I couldn't enjoy it. Where are the kids? Oh yeah, I'm squeezing the circulation out of their little hands. I almost asked the people next to us to borrow their dog leash so I could tie it to my children. We stayed up there for several minutes while everyone took pictures. I posed for a few, but I could not let go of the children. There was no way I could take a picture because that would mean I had to release one of the children's hands.
After an uneventful hike back down, we jumped back in the truck. In the commotion of the whole drop off ordeal, I hadn't noticed that Troy was basically green. The bumpy 4 mile drive had done him in, and now we had to do it again. Big bumps, big pot holes, and washboard flat sections. By the time we got back to home to the Gray Whale, we had deemed it a full fledged Adventure. It had all the components - suspense, near death experience, beauty, emotion. Our whole family, adults included, was in bed asleep by 7:30 that night. We Missourians have much to learn and experience. This one hour of our lives did what we hoped this whole trip would do for us. It woke us up. Taught us new things. Allowed us to experience nature and our own emotions in a deep and profound way.
I'm leaving a part of me in Anza Borrego...literally. While camping here one of my teeth began to hurt incredibly bad when I bit down on anything. After living with it for 3 days, I found a dentist and had it extracted. You may wonder why the dentist decided to pull it rather than fix it. I had two baby molars that never had adult teeth develop under them. I've known my whole life that these teeth would likely give out at some point because they weren't meant to last beyond childhood. This one lasted until shortly after my 40th birthday. Here. While boondocking outside a tiny desert town surrounded by mountains, 2000 miles from home. Awesome.
Was the dentist older than dirt? Yes.
Were his hands shaking as he worked on my tooth? Yes.
Was the root of my tooth fused to my jawbone and incredibly hard to get out? Yes.
Did the dentist chip off part of another tooth trying to remove the bad one? Yes.
Do I have pain medicine in my system and feel like I'm floating as I write this? Yes.
Part of the reason we can be on this extended trip is because we are able to work it around my 9-5 job. So, after I my workday ended, we packed up and jumped back in the truck. Halfway between Tucson and Anza Borrego is Painted Rock State Park near Dateland, AZ. It was a short 150 mile trip, but we arrived in the dark due to our late departure. So, we were driving in the middle of nowhere down a dark country road with "dips." Dips are what they use instead of bridges. The idea is that it is just a dip most of the year, but when it does happen to rain, it is impassable. Well, despite that fact that it hasn't rained in Arizona for awhile, one of these dips had a significant amount of water in it. We towed the Gray Whale through the darkness and saw the water just before we hit it. Fortunately, it wasn't that deep and we didn't hydroplane when we hit it, but it thoroughly scared us. Now we know to always be cautious around dips. We found out later that sometimes the farmers leave their irrigation systems on at night and flood the roads.
We found the campground (if you can even call it that) and settled in for another night of boondocking. We now knew that our batteries would take us through the night, so we were much more relaxed than when at Rockhound. These primitive sites are so interesting to me because you just find a spot you like and pull in. Since there are no hookups you just face whatever direction you want, park, unlock the door, and you are all set up. In the morning, I worked for a few hours while Troy and the kids hiked to find some petroglyphs in the park. (These are collections of rock etchings made by Native Americans hundreds of years ago.) When they got back, it was a gorgeous morning, so they spent it playing in the rocks making rock people of each other.
Meanwhile I was working in the Airstream. We were in the middle of nowhere and I was able to get not only cell service but pretty fast internet service for my laptop. This is possible because of our internet set up we purchased from Millenicom. It allows us to get a cellular signal almost anywhere, boost it, and rebroadcast it to create a secure network in our Airstream. It will run 5 devices and the speeds are as good, if not better, than the service we have back home. Our plan gives us 20 GB of data per month. Right now, we have no idea how much usage that translates to, so the first few days are an experiment to see how much data a typical workday chews through. As of right now, the device has been extremely useful and never failed to find a strong signal.
After securing everything inside, we jumped back in the truck and headed about 20 miles down the road to Dateland to get gas and a "world famous" date shake. They actually have a grove of date palms and make shakes (among other things) out of the dates. They are so sweet that all 4 of us shared one shake.
We arrived in Anza Borrego State Park and Troy promptly contracted some stomach virus and spent the next 2 days puking, aching, and feverish. During his bout of sickness, I developed a severe toothache and could not eat anything on that side of my mouth. This wasn't exactly how we had imagined our first trip to this amazing desert.
We arrived in Tucson on New Year's Day. Many of you may remember that we attempted to do this trip last February, but cancelled the trip when the truck broke down 30 minutes from our home. But, please allow me to backtrack one day.
We left a resort-style RV park in Albuquerque, NM with all of the comforts of home and drove south almost to the Mexican border. It was going to be a shorter drive than previous days, so we had moments of grumpiness because I wanted to stop several times along the trip to explore and Troy wanted to just get to the state park we were staying at that night. We made it to Rockhound State Park in time for an evening hike which made us all happy. All of the electric sites were taken, so we ended up "dry camping" or "boondocking" here by accident. The night was still below freezing, but we had plenty of propane to run the furnace. The only thing we didn't know is how long our batteries would last. RVers typically have a pretty thorough understanding of their power needs and usage. It is a daily game of knowing what to use and how much so you don't run out of power before the next campground with electricity or before the sun shines on your solar panels to top your batteries off again. However, since we had always been in a full hook up campsite with our Airstream, we had no idea of how long our batteries would last running the furnace blower all night or turning lights on or using the water pump to flush the toilet. So, we decided to only use our 6 LED lights and run the furnace at 60 degrees so it wouldn't run so often. We did fine. The batteries were still half full when we left the next morning. Overall, Rockhound was a great stop for us. Good hiking. Very quite and peaceful. The campsites are spread out so you don't have any neighbors nearby. It was a great one night layover on the way to Tucson.
So, we are back to the beginning of this entry. New Year's day is the day we arrived at Lazy Days in Tucson. It was amazing. Well-manicured, swimming pool, hot tub, full hook ups so we could go power crazy. There was even a little fruit tree at our campsite. We hated the thought of heading out again the next day, but we were meeting friends for Boondocking 101 at Anza Borrego in 2 days, so we had to press on. Our only consolation was that we would be back in February to stay there for a week at Alumafiesta...and "swim everyday" in Silas' words.
I am a wife, mother, and exercise physiologist with one foot in the world of travel and one foot in the world of fitness.
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