Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 Yearly Boondocking Figures......

      2015 was another banner year for our boondocking adventures.  Through the end of our first winter south through New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, and the trip east to Michigan.......and then the reverse itinerary from Michigan west to Washington to Idaho, Utah, Arizona, California, and Mexico.....we lived life to the fullest.  We were home in Michigan from April through September.  To refresh our "Rules of Boondocking" we consider this to be any camping off grid either free or no more than $7 a night. 
      We do have the new RV this winter and this has not seemed to affect our power utilization rates, but we will improve the system upgrading the on board battery and tires when possible.  We utilize the suitcase 135 watt solar panel kit to power the RV when we're not in camp and the additional 230 watt truck roof mounted solar panel with battery bank system to tie into the RV when in camp.  We 'water up' prior to going off grid and use two 6 gallon jugs to ferry when needed.  We do have another 33 gallon water cistern in the back of the truck as well.  We try to keep water usage to a reasonable minimum whenever possible. Siphoning gray water in gallon jugs can be used for toilet flush purposes to save fresh water.  Any remote 'point of contact' fresh water pumping uses Sodium Dichlor and a 3 stage filtration system to purify any non-potable water sources.  We reset the fresh water tank several times a year.  This does not mean we never stay in RV parks or campgrounds......every once in awhile you DO just want the convenience, the laundry, shopping, etc.  Sometimes you have no other choice.   
      We boondocked a total of 135 days this calendar year.  We did utilize the Honda generator for battery bank top off and supplemental power a total of 109 hours.  Figuring an average of $30 a night at commercial RV parks.....and an average of $2.50 a gallon gas for generator usage and an oil change our bottom line resulted in savings of $3090 in camping expenses again this year. 
      It's not for everybody, but we have always figured it's easier to live more frugally here and there whenever possible in order to see as much and go wherever as we want.  Factor in the 'green solar' system and it pays dividends every time. 

Monday, December 28, 2015

Mesa, Julian, and Mexico!

      Our next chapter of the adventure takes us from Utah to Mexico.  We departed Zion NP and traveled east to the Lee's Ferry Campground on the Colorado River.  We traveled US 89A which is quite scenic, but be advised because the change in elevation can fool you.  What looks like a forested ridge actually rises to 7986' and when not in summer can be frosty.  Lee's Ferry is the large "take out" or "put in" on the river depending on where you are coming or going.   This is a very nice 54 space campground with a dump station and potable water (except in winter).  We did backtrack 5 miles into Marble Canyon where the Chevron gas station was very generous letting us fill our RV water tank for free.  The groceries we did pick up made up for the cost savings, but that's life.  Cost here for Seniors?  Damned near free ($8).  Picnic tables, fire pits, and shaded shelters (for summer) overlooking the river amongst a beautiful red canyon.  Cell signal is amazingly fair to good.  A nice spot. 
       Leaving Lee's Ferry to the east you cross the Navajo Bridge.  The older, original bridge still stands for historical value, but you can walk across if you'd like.  Me?  NO!  It's 470' above the Colorado River.  Barb said it was a spectacular view.  The next 2 days we stayed at Rancho Sedona RV Park ($$) in Sedona, AZ.  We had planned to boondock SW of town and explore the area, but  I came down with a nasty stomach flu and spent the entire stopover in bed.  Have to come back here one day.   
      We spent 5 days in Mesa, AZ at Usery Mountain Regional Park, about 3 miles north of my cousin's house. This is one of several Maricopa County Regional Parks that provide a myriad of recreational opportunities.  We have camped here before, enjoying the beautiful desert scenery at the base of the mountains.  Camp sites are very nice and provide firepits, electricity, water, and easy walking distance to one of several bathroom/shower buildings.  There is a central dump station on the way out.  There is also an archery range and 29 miles of hiking trails.  The scenery and proximity to town are worth the $30 per night tag.  It is here that we got the necessary USDA paperwork and health certificates to transport Roux and Bones into Mexico next week.   We were thrilled to discover $1.69 unleaded gas and only $2.09 for my beloved diesel; the lowest prices of the trip! 
      Departing Mesa we headed SW to Yuma, AZ for an overnight boondock at WalMart then on to our next destination of Julian, CA.  There are 7 BLM camping areas in the Yuma area, but a quick water up at a Love's Truck Stop and then on to Wal Mart for some 'Barb Shopping' was determined to be the order of the day.  The truck stop was FULL of nearly 100 semi trucks and a quick check of diesel prices revealed the answer.  Diesel is a full 40 cents cheaper per gallon in Arizona than just 3 miles west in California. 
      Marcee Wheaton is another treasured classmate of mine from Tumwater High.  Finding and keeping in touch with these folks has been for me perhaps the best part of Facebook.  Marcee recently retired from a career with the San Diego County Court system and is quite the accomplished artist as well.  She lives in the community of Julian, CA., a beautiful location sitting high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains east of San Diego.  This community is rich in gold mining and other cultural history. The drive up the 'Sunrise Highway' is incredibly beautiful and a bit wider with less switchbacks than highway 79.  We had originally planned to moochdock at her place, but the drive and trees were so narrow that it prohibited this idea so we stayed at the Pinezanita RV Park just outside of town. Very nice park and fairly reasonable at $34/night.  

      Marcee showed us the town and area as well as an enjoyable lunch.   I did thoroughly enjoy surprising Marcee by cooking Cajun Shrimp n Grits for her and Barb on our day off.  It was a fun evening.  The next morning I was a bit surprised at the "Check Engine" light on my truck display.  We just had our 50,000 mile checkup 2 months ago as well as some major work last April.  It was nothing I was expecting.  I took it to the local auto repairman who did check it out with his 
computer scanner and discovering that it was a computer gliche and reset it for me at no charge.  A BIG SHOUT OUT TO PETE'S AUTO REPAIR in Julian, CA.  2 hours later we set up camp in El Centro, CA waiting for our departure into Mexico the next day. 
      My old high school,  Mike Hayes, met us in El Centro during the midst of his shopping extravaganza and escorted us back across the border and 120 miles south to San Felipe on the eastern shores of Baja California on the Sea of Cortez.   It is a pretty easy 2.5 hour drive on a very good Mexico Hwy 5.  Mike has a beautiful hacienda in the Eldorado Ranch area of San Felipe.  It is a solar home so I was very interested in all the tech-no-geek aspects of that. 

      Since we both run off solar, power was sympatico.  Mike filled my water tank off his 2000 gallon sistern tank and he even had a dump for waste water when we departed.  We just settled in and enjoyed perhaps the finest RV setting ever. 
      San Felipe is a fishing village on the east coast of Baja California.  The area thrives on it's shrimp harvest.  It is at the end of one of the countries major highways.  This is a major commercial and sport fishing area, but unfortunately the country has put a moratorium on the commercial fishing industry for the next 3 years resulting in a pretty extreme hardship on the local economy.  Still they depend heavily on the 3,000 Americans (out of the 20,000 total population) as the sole cornerstone on any and all income. 



        We ate out several times as it is SO INEXPENSIVE.  The average meal for four of us totaled $23.  This includes some very good Mexican food with beverages. I really loved their fish tacos!  Barb loved any Mexican meal with tacos, tamales, or nachos as they always use real beef slices either from brisket or steak.  Hamburger is never used.  Our last night the four of us went out to 'party' a bit.  We drank beer and mixed drinks for several hours as well as a large plate of nachos for us for $37.  This includes live music!  We made sure to tip the staff as well as the band. 

      We really enjoyed Mexico.  From the border thru the duration of our entire Christmas week and our return we found the people to be incredibly friendly.  Yes, we are tourists, but their warmth is noteworthy and very genuine.   It also helps tremendously to have friends who know their way all over town as well.  Mike and Connie are my oldest friends, having known both of them since grade school, about 50 years.  We had a big wind/dust storm the day before we left and no matter how much you try the RV now has dust EVERYWHERE!  I swear it comes in thru the walls.  We departed San Felipe and crossed the border back into Arizona (without any help this time) for an overnight stay.  The next morning we arrived once again back in Mesa, AZ to restock, do laundry, clean the RV, and get the truck serviced.  After the dust storm that pesky 'check engine' light came on again.  The truck is still running fine, but who the hell knows?   A big THANK YOU to Mike & Connie Hayes as well as all the fine people of Baja California.  We'll be seeing you again one day....

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Julian Grille

      During our visit to the 'hamlet on the mountain', Julian, California we stopped into one of two recommended places for lunch.  The Julian Grille is tucked into the downtown historic district and is easy walking distance from anywhere.  The original cottage restaurant was built in the 1920s by Mr. Robinson for his wife, and remained their residence until the 1960’s. The cottage then became the residence of an artist for several years and then an antique store. In the early 80’s the cottage was transformed into a deli, and then in 1989 they proudly opened  "The Julian Grille.”

      The grille still maintains the quaint cottage style interior. We were seated by our server near the fireplace.  There is also a very nice outdoor terrace for dining on warm spring or summer days.  Barb decided on the Julian Cheeseburger while Marcee and I chose the Linguine with Italian Sausage, Olive, and bread. 

      Barb said her cheeseburger was delicious, with tasty meat, gooey cheddar cheese, and a great bun.  The Linguine was also very good, served with a side cup of freshly grated Parmesan to top the pasta to your taste, which for me is all of it.  The Italian Sausage was some of the best I have ever had.  Fresh butter is served for your homemade bread.  I topped it off with a delightful local Hefeweizen brew. 
      The Julian Grille has good service and great food from salads to steaks to seafood to pasta at prices ranging from $12 to $32 depending on your order.  It was a delight for lunch, it could be an experience for dinner.  I hear their Lemon Sorbet is @&*^#%#$$!!   


Friday, December 11, 2015

Bryce Canyon National Park (Surprise Day Trip)

      Since we ended up our tour of Zion NP a couple of days early and with the weather warming a bit in SW Utah we decided to take a day's drive back up to Bryce Canyon.  It is only about 90 miles NE and the weather on the day of our journey was nearly 50 degrees.  We wouldn't have to worry about the nighttime cold.   Bryce Canyon sits at an elevation of about 8500' which is much higher than the 3500' of our campsite in Zion Watchman Campground.  Bryce Canyon is all about the Hoodoos.  These are large weather/time eroded pillars of sandstone whose shapes defy anything but your imagination.  Mother Nature is a fascinating and creative lady! 

      We got up early the day of our journey and headed out.  It was only about 2 hours there.  We arrived to find some snow on the ground, but with the exception of a few businesses outside the park entrance awaiting some real winter snow, nothing else was open.  The park was open to tour, but none of the (2) campgrounds, stores, and several trails were closed due to snow/ice.  We can't really comment on anything but the sights.  The park consists of a large amphitheater of the canyon with all the viewpoints on the west side.  There is no bad light for pictures except for late afternoon. 
       One of the most interesting things in Bryce Canyon is the large solar powered array at the Visitors Center.  Not your normal solar array I discovered that this is a new lens solarpholtaic array that uses glass lenses to focus the sun's energy.  Only about half of the sun's energy actually reaches the earth so this system focus the light to recoup energy.  Think of a lighthouse.  The same type of large Fresnel lens used in a lighthouse to disperse the light outwards is used in this concept, but in reverse.  Each cell is a miniature Fresnel lens focusing the suns energy onto a pholtaic panel.  These two panels provide 400,030 KW of energy a year easily powering all the park's needs.  Pretty fascinating.   
      We found Bryce Canyon to be much smaller than we thought it would be.  We were in the park less than two hours and saw nearly everything, but it is definitely worth the trip.  We head south now towards Mesa, AZ to visit my cousin, pick up some mail, scrips, haircut, and get the necessary vet paperwork for our animals as we prepare to travel to Mexico this Christmas. 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Zion National Park

      As we stated last blog we decided not to tough out the COLD conditions at Bryce Canyon this trip.  We departed Moab and journeyed the first day to Salina, UT where we set up camp at the Butch Cassidy RV park for three nights.  Sometimes you just want to have hookups.  Barb needed some dependable WiFi cause it is bill paying time once again and there is always Wal Mart. 
     Zion NP is all about Towers and Temples, the essence of nature-carved sandstone thousands of feet tall.  It is located just NE of St. George, UT which is a beautiful city in it's own right. We may have just saved the best for last as this is the most popular park in Utah.  We traveled in from the northeast off of I-15 then through the small town of Springdale, UT. 
      This small, eclectic village is the cultural hub of the area capitalizing on all the beauty of the local desert and canyon area.  Any shopping and other supplies you may need are there, but again St. George isn't much further away for the bigger stores.  It should also be noted that there are two grocery stores in the village, but the "Happy Camper" which is right outside the park is much smaller and anywhere from 20-30% higher on their prices.  "Sol Foods" is located on the other side of the village and is a much larger store with better selections and prices.   

      Just as in Arches NP this time of year there are no reservations for campsites so we set up our base camp at Watchman CG just within the park.  These sites do have electric, but water is only available at spigots or at the dump station so we watered up before establishing camp.  We were here in December so only 1 of the 4 camping loops was open.   Sites run from $8-$20 per night.  We were in a beautiful site on right on the river so it was $20, but with our Senior Access Pass our total per night was only $10.  During the summer and peak times of the year you DEFINITELY NEED TO HAVE RESERVATIONS. There will be 4000-5000 vehicles a day in the park or nearby village and only 450 parking spaces.  The park does offer a shuttle service throughout the length.  IT IS IMPORTANT TO NOTE THAT FROM NOVEMBER 30 TO MARCH 4 IS THE ONLY TIME VEHICLES MAY DRIVE ON THE ZION CANYON SCENIC HIGHWAY.  DURING THE SUMMER THE TOUR BUSSES MUST BE USED.  IN ADDITION WAIT TIMES TO GET INTO THE PARK DURING SUMMER PEAK TIMES CAN BE AS LONG AS 90 MINUTES. 
      Our first day we wandered through town picking up a few supplies and some firewood.  Barb, of course, had more detailed shopping in mind.  Due to the time of the year not many of the shops were open and the ones that were open were pretty expensive. 
      Day #2 we traveled east along the Canyon Switchback Highway towards Mount Carmel and the East Entrance to the park.  This route includes a 1.1 mile long tunnel that prohibits any type of commercial trucks, or vehicles (RV included) over 12' high or 50' long.  So if you're camping here come in from the South Gate.  This road begins an ascent pretty early and the switchbacks are tight.  There are plenty of pull offs to take pictures and no end to the panoramas provided.  Once past the top and out of the tunnel the terrain changes to a more sparce, desolate textured landscape rather than the sheer cliffs of the west side.  This area is evidence of many layers of sandstone and other sedimentary rocks from millions of years of erosion and Mother Nature's hand. 
      Day #3 found us traveling straight north along the main Zion Canyon Road.  This 12 miles is the heart of the park.  The entire canyon is carved north/south along the Virgin River which had a major role in it's development over the last thousand years.  The first part of the canyon is wider, but still as majestic. 

      The middle part of the canyon begins to narrow once you arrive at the Court of the Patriarchs.  As you travel north the walls get steeper, the access to the canyon other than the road is not to be seen. 

     The Zion Lodge is located in this stretch.  From here you will also notice the river turns from it's downstream silty brown to a blue shade.  Further upstream it becomes either a deep green in the pools to perfectly clear. 


      At the end of the road is the Temple of Sinawava and the River Walk Trail which runs 1.1 miles to it's termination at the beginning of the Narrows. This trail is paved and pretty much all level; an easy stroll.  From here on the journey is by foot only skirting the edges of the stream near the cliffs or just plain wading upstream.  It is accessible for another 3.4 miles.   We really wanted to journey further, but in December the stream is pretty much only about 40 degrees and the footing is treacherous, but many people do it, in the summer I would imagine.   

      We really enjoyed our stay in the park.  We ended up with two days off at the end so we spent a day in town doing some laundry and restocking groceries, and propane. We did get a 'wild hair' the last day so we took a drive, the subject of which is our next blog chapter. 



Thursday, November 26, 2015

Arches National Park

North Window
       This has been one of our 'Bucket List' items ever since we began planning our retirement.  The vast open spaces and beauty of Southern Utah can only be believed by visiting.  Arches, slot canyons, stacks, and hoodoos.  These are some of the terms we would come to know.  The best possible online resource for any of the parks in Southern Utah is 

      Arches NP is 269 miles SE from Odgen near the town of Moab, a full days drive via Interstate 15 and US 6.   I do have to say that Utah has some of the finest highways I have seen cross country.  US 6 is no exception.  This time of year all of the campgrounds in Utah's National Parks are first come first serve and as such we set up camp in Devils Garden CG. 
       This is the only campground in Arches NP and is 18 miles from the entrance.  The park itself is beautiful, but there are several things worth mentioning for campers.  First, the campsites are pretty small, no matter what their website says.  We tried several on for size unsuccessfully before finding one that we could into.  Of course, our RV is 34', but any RV 30' and larger may be a bit challenged.  Second, be prepared to haul water in your RV.  There is no water spigot available except for the one on the shallow sink in front of the bathrooms for washing dishes.  We ran the travel relay with two 6 gallons jugs back and forth for several days and alternating our shower days to make it work.  The campground itself is nestled at the top of a high summit with spectacular views around.   Pets are permitted within the campground, but NOT allowed on the trails.  The camp host is very friendly and helpful, he brings $5 bundles of firewood around each evening for anyone who wants them.  Cost per day for this campground is $25, $12.50 if you have the Golden Access or Interagency Pass.  RV parks in nearby Moab are much higher. 
      There are nearly 2000 arches within the park. We visited all those we could either drive to or hike a reasonable distance.  We took nearly several hundred pictures.  The ecology and science of what transpired to result in this environment staggers the imagination.  I would recommend the Visitor
Center Tour.  There isn't much else I can say except to enjoy just a few of these photos of some spectacular scenery. 
Balanced Rock

Hoodoos & Arches
North Window Arch
The Three Gossips 
Double Arch 
Landscape Arch
Delicate Arch
      Since retirement we cherish our holidays more than ever and this Thanksgiving was no exception.  We AusSpit our Cook's Ham over the fire pit with some Baked Sweet Potatoes, Steamed Asparagus, and Pecan Pie for desert!  We tried a new glaze on the ham today:  Boar's Head Brown Sugar & Spice.  It is delicious!


      We spent 6 wonderful days exploring Arches NP and although we didn't see everything we enjoyed mild weather, ate well, and had a blast.  Always good to reaffirm your faith in Mother Nature.  There is something here for everyone.  Hiking, mountain biking, off road adventures, and of course the most beautiful scenery you can imagine.  The nearby town of Moab is only 5 miles south and has everything you will need except a Wal Mart.  There are hotels, RV parks, restaurants, fast food joints, every adventure tour and rental imaginable, decent prices on gas, grocery stores, propane, and several places to do laundry.  We wholeheartedly recommend this park to anyone; your adventure awaits. 
NOTE:  We had 2" of fresh snow the night before our departure from Arches NP.  It was really pretty and provided a peaceful feel to the area.  Mother Nature does have a habit of having things all her own way sometimes.  We have been keeping an eye on the weather at Bryce Canyon NP this week.  Unfortunately the canyon sits at 8000'-9000' and they have a reputation for some pretty heavy snowfall.  It is known as a Mecca for Nordic Skiing and Snowshoeing in the winter.  This latest storm not only provided them with lots of new snowfall, the forecast temps for the coming week were for only in the lower 20s for highs and down to the single digits at night including some forecast nights below zero!  We really have no desire to tough out such brutally cold weather especially at night in the RV....we decided to forego our stop at Bryce Canyon this trip and will catch it perhaps next trip in the spring or summer.  We will now move on to Zion NP and the St. George area next.