Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Wasson Peak, Tucson Mountain Park

Had us a fabulous hike with John and Pam today! We started the day with breakfast at the rig, then we all piled into John and Pam's Jeep to travel the short distance to the King Canyon trail head in the Tucson Mountain District of Saguaro National Park.

Our plan for the day was to hike to the top of Wasson Peak. We made it into a loop of 8.75 miles with 1800 feet of elevation gain. It was a perfect day to be in the desert with friends. I'll let the pics tell the story...

Just a half mile into the trail the views started opening up around us.
We were headed for the top of one of the peaks in the distance.
All day we searched for the elusive crested saguaro,
mutants that are scattered across the Sonoran desert.
This beauty had us all excited!
The intrepid hikers at the summit. 360 degree views!
Coming down the Hugh Norris Trail, lots of switchbacks.
Lisa, Pam and John are in the picture...
Amazing views all day long!
The boys in a little mining relic.
This guy has so much going on, it looks like he's juggling!
We're looking forward to more adventures with John and Pam next week!

Out and About in Tucson

We've moved on over to Tucson for the next month. We are staying at Justin's Diamond J RV Park, a wonderful little RV park that backs up to Tucson Mountain Park (TMP). They have large sites and trails right behind the park that provide direct access to TMP.

The weather has been a mix of sun and rain and cold and wind so we've been doing little hikes from the RV park and hitting some of the pretty darn great tourist sites in Tucson.

Beautiful trails right from our RV park. That's Tucson Mountain Park in the rain shadow...
There are several wonderful sitting areas scattered along the trails behind the RV park.

I love all the colors and shapes and moods you get in the desert!
I even did a little baking on the rainiest day!

Turns out Tucson has a pretty sweet coupon deal if you plan on visiting several of the excellent sites in the area, it's the Tucson Attractions Passport. Lots of 2 for 1 deals that can make the price of the book worth it after just one site.

We've visited the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. A very well done combination of museum and zoo and gallery. The raptor show was awesome, raptors flying INCHES above your head! The grounds consist mostly of trails through the desert, docents are available for in depth informational tours.

During the raptor show this guy took off from 6 feet in front of me and flew inches above the crowd.

A docent was showing this owl in a courtyard...
Almost doesn't even look real in person!

We've visited the Pima Air Museum. Hundreds of planes on site, some in hangars, some outside, plus you can add on a bus tour of the airplane boneyard at the Air Force Base just across the road. Be prepared to do a lot of walking if you don't take one of the bus tours (an extra charge).

An experimental plane of which only two were ever built.

Art planes!

The Guppy...this was the most unusual looking plane there,
I thought it looked more like a whale than a guppy.

Trippy looking helicopter, Hans told me it was used to lift heavy objects.

The weather is clearing up and we are ready for some good hiking with John and Pam of Oh The Places They Go.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Campground Review: Casa Grande RV Resort, Casa Grande, AZ

We stopped over in Casa Grande, AZ specifically to meet up with old family friends of Hans, Jay and Nancy Oversteg. As a bonus, we also had a chance meeting and then a couple of get togethers with Mona Liza and Steve of The Lowe's RV Adventures at the RV park. We will definitely be hooking up with this wonderful couple in the future if our travels coincide!

Casa Grande RV Resort is under new ownership and in the last year has received a million dollar makeover. They have 361 large gravel sites (only a few are pull-throughs). Each site has a large cement patio and the utilities are near the back of the site. Roads are paved and there are trees scattered through the park.

Lots are for sale or lease in the park. During our stay the park was maybe half full and only a few of those seemed to be permanent or long term sites. They are working hard to entice new patrons with special offers, currently $20/night introductory offer. We paid $15/night under our Passport America membership.

The park has very clean grounds with free wifi, two pools, a hot tub, huge laundry, fitness room, several lounge and meeting rooms, lending library, pickle ball, billiards, horseshoes, croquet and badminton, and lots of scheduled events. The town of Casa Grande has good Verizon 4G internet service.

Check in was a little long because when I asked for a pull-through they had to go out and see if any were available. After determining none were available, I was told to "pick any green marked site" from a sheet of paper without any real knowledge of the park and with a couple of people waiting in line behind me. I balked at that and asked for some guidance which ended up adding even more time to the check in process. All in all, I felt the check in procedure was unorganized, the manager was a bit surly to everyone, but the young man who was processing my check-in was friendly, if slow. Meanwhile, Hans and Rosie were sitting in the truck, in the sun, in front of a sign that said "turn off engine" so they couldn't run the AC. Moral of the story: study the park map before you arrive and have an idea of where you want to park in advance of check in!

Pinal Ave. (Hwy 387) is the main access road to the park and is a busy thoroughfare and can be fairly noisy 24 hours. Sites farthest from Pinal Avenue are preferable.

It's too bad that Casa Grande does not seem to have much for active outdoors enthusiasts to do without driving long distances. This park made a good stop over site for us for the purpose of our visit though and the facilities were very nice.

We realized later that we should have parked our truck on the left side of our patio.
This is site #236.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Campground Review: Rivers Edge RV Resort, Winterhaven, CA

We spent three nights at Rivers Edge RV Resort in Winterhaven, CA which is just across the border from Yuma, AZ and Los Algodones, Mexico.

This RV park is situated between the Colorado River and busy Interstate 8. There are 480 full hook up back-in sites, several laundry/restroom/shower facilities as well as a pool and hot tubs, pool tables, horseshoes, shuffleboard and a library/book exchange. There is NO wifi, come with your own or do without! We had 3G service through Millenicom and it was slow but steady.

You can hear the freeway, but you get used to it pretty quickly. Train tracks are on the far side of the freeway. Small planes fly overhead occasionally.

Roads are paved, sites are gravel and dirt with a concrete patio and are pretty close to your neighbor. All sites back in to a row of trees. The trees are trimmed nice and high and do provide some excellent shade at various times of the day. All utilities are near the back of the site. We discovered well into set up that our sewer hose was too short and opted to just dump before we left instead of hook back up to move closer.

During set up our surge protector warned us that we had a reverse polarity issue. We confirmed the surge protector was working correctly at another site and learned that other people had stayed in this spot regularly without problems and decided to just go ahead and use the pedestal.

There are many permanent sites in this park. Permanent sites may be single-wides, park models, or even RV's that are obviously not going any where. The permanents are in good shape and have nice patios and paving, and even build-out rooms, etc. for snowbird living. Many folks come here year after year and know each other well.

The river runs along the South edge of the RV park and is bordered by reeds and some trees. Permanent RVers have cleared away sections of the reeds and created river access and sitting areas along the river. These sitting areas seem to be for the use of the individuals who cleared them but it seems okay to hang out in an empty sitting area for a while without anyone getting upset.

We paid $84 for three nights including tax and a Good Sam discount. This is not a fancy park (and we don't care about fancy), but it is pretty friendly. It was a convenient stopover for us to meet up with some RVers we had met previously and to check out the area. The Yuma area has limited things to do for active explorer types like us, so it would be hard for us to stay any longer than a week in this area. We did enjoy the pool and hot tub and time with the friendly folks staying around us.

Looking down the full length of our row towards the river. (The sun is just coming up.)

Our site, #57.

One of the sitting areas along the river.

Heading to happy hour...notice the handy beer pockets...

Happy hour jam session. Fun!
Folks who are settled in for the winter really make themselves at home! 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Dental Work in Los Algodones

Now that we're retired and don't want to pay for dental insurance (boy, we were spoiled having corporate health and dental insurance all our lives!) we decided to do what the snowbirds do and get our teeth cleaned in Los Algodones, Baja California.

I won't go into the nitty gritty details of our decision (because Nina already did a fabulous job of that here and here...thanks Nina, for sharing the excellent detail and detective work!), but I will give you a report on our experience with our dentist of choice.

We only needed a cleaning and had learned that it should be about $30 each. I had narrowed down a couple of dentists and discovered Bernal Dental Group offered a way to request an appointment and quote online. 

The office got back to me, via phone, minutes after submitting my request and said a cleaning would cost $40. Knowing we could get cleanings for less elsewhere I said "how about 2 for $70?" and after speaking with the doctor we were approved for that price. Our neighbors here at the RV park said for that price it should be a very good cleaning (they've known some dentists to do a polishing and calling it a cleaning).

Our appointment was at 9am on Monday. We easily found the fee parking lot right next to the border crossing, walked across the border and, following the directions provided by the dental office, were in front of the office in 5 minutes. Once inside we each completed a single medical info sheet and I was in the dentists chair in 10 minutes.

Dr. Carlos Castaneda cleaned our teeth. He was friendly and efficient, as was his assistant. He used an ultrasonic scaler to remove the plaque, then polished my teeth. He did not try to upsell any additional services. Hans was in the same chair moments after I vacated it and we were both done within in one hour.

We felt they did a decent job, everyone we interacted with spoke good English, they honored the price they gave me over the phone, and we were out of there in record time. All in all a good experience.

By the time we were done, it was still early and we had already walked the main streets of town prior to our appointment (when walking through town you are constantly solicited for services and shopping) so we decided we'd had enough of Algodones and did not stay for lunch. Crossing back into the US there were only two people ahead of us in line, so it only took about 2 minutes to get back across (this was at 10am). Our entire trip took about an hour and a half and cost $75 (teeth cleaning plus $5 for parking). Not too shabby considering a US teeth cleaning can set an individual back ~$150!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Out and About in Yuma, AZ

We've relocated to Winterhaven, CA, just across the river from Yuma, AZ and also Los Algodones, Baja California.

We desperately needed to work off some of the excess intake from the past few weeks in San Diego, so we started off today by hiking the local butt-burner hill: Telegraph Pass.

The trail is ridiculously steep! Probably about 5 miles round trip from the parking area at the end of the Frontage Road off of Foothills Blvd, you start off across rolling foothills on single track trail, and after about half a mile you start climbing up a severely steep concrete road. This is the access road to a telecommunications equipment site for Yuma. In fact, work is happening atop this hill that could be the future site of 4G for the area!

The crazy-steep road up Telegraph Pass provides long distance views.

After that excellent workout we were ready for some site seeing. The goal was a loop drive taking us to some birding sites along the Colorado River. En route, we drove through the Yuma Proving Grounds, stopping to check out these old tanks that had been tested over the years at YPG.

It's a guy thing...

We never found the "right" spot to stop and do some birding but we did find a yummy date shake and even bought some beautiful produce at the local farmers market. Finished off the day with a hot tub at the RV park then a fun dinner with Sharon and Cliff from Alberta and a little guitar picking.

Have I said lately how much we enjoy being retired?!?!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Campground Review: Mission Bay RV Resort, San Diego, CA (2013)

We split our two months in San Diego between two distinctly different RV parks: Santee Lakes and Mission Bay RV Resort. Santee Lakes had wonderful ambience and site size/separation (read our review here.). What Mission Bay has going for it is location.

Mission Bay RV Resort sits right on the banks of Mission Bay in San Diego. It is connected to miles of biking/walking trails around the Bay and via those trails, is about two miles from the Pacific Ocean. It is also a very central location to many of San Diego's main attractions and is close to three freeways (5, 8 and 52).

Basically the Resort is one big paved parking lot with a few patches of grass. There are 260 full hook up sites, restrooms/showers, laundry facility and boat launch. Rules are enforced about pets (breed restrictions) and guests (limited time parking inside the park), guest parking is offered outside the park. Not sure why it is called a resort as there are no resort-like amenities!

We chose one of the four sites that are adjacent to a restroom so we had a patch of grass outside our door and a neighbor on one side only. The only drawback to this location were the bright lights on the restroom overnight, though luckily it was dark enough in our bedroom for sleeping.

Sites are pretty tight and back-in only, with a tree separating every site at the front of the site. Had the park been full when we tried to back in to our site, it would have been really tough! We had to use the two sites across from us in order to maneuver into our site...though that could have been due to inexperience on our part! Backing in to these sites looked much easier for motorhomes.

Being about 1/3 of a mile (as the crow flies) from busy Interstate 5, the park does have some freeway noise, though we got used to it quickly.

We paid the winter rate of $800/month for the most basic site. Sites on the Bay are higher ($1200/mo in winter), as are summer rates. Monthly rates are not offered in the summer.

We had good 4G internet service using our Millenicom service; we did not try the parks wifi.

We will likely stay here again because we intend to return to San Diego to visit family on a regular basis and this location is ideal for our needs. Other nearby parks are either right on the freeway (Santa Fe RV Park) or have very tight sites and are family focused (Campland on the Bay).

Site 139 has grass next to it because it is next to a restroom. Most sites do not have grass.
Looking down our row...just a big parking lot with some trees.
At the end of this row are the premium sites along the Bay.
Sunset as seen from one of the premium Bayside sites.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Farewell San Diego, For Now

We are winding down our two month stay in San Diego, our former home town. It's been a whirlwind of visits with family and old friends and we've made a number of new friends in the RVing community. We've done some reorganizing in the RV, outfitted it with stuff from our San Diego storage unit, and completed a few projects to make our awesome little home even more comfortable and give it some character. And best of all our kitty joined us for our future travels!

New tiki-themed pillows, made by my mom with a little assistance from me.
Same fabric front and back, different trim on each.
On Saturday we head out for Arizona, jumping back in to exploration mode...the reason we retired early into this lifestyle after all! The next few months should be a tour of Southern Arizona, then into New Mexico as the season changes and summer in the mountains of Colorado. Notice I say "should be", nothing is written in stone and the route is open to change at any moment; boy, I like the freedom of retirement!!!

Just another fantastic sunset over Mission Bay.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Hiking Mt Woodson is no longer a solitary adventure!

After a delicious lunch with Hans' brother and family, we hiked Mt. Woodson from Lake Poway. This is a 7 mile round trip hike up a pretty steep trail. We've done this hike several times, always on the weekend, and never ran in to too many people. That has changed.

View from the top of Mt. Woodson. On this clear day the views were endless.
The sun is shining on the Pacific Ocean, probably 15 miles distant.
Lots of giant boulders to gawk at on this trail.
Turns out Potato Chip Rock is the new draw to this trail!
See the line of people waiting to get their picture taken on the Chip?
Yeah, Mt Woodson is more of an exercise and view destination than a quest for solitude!
With school still on break, it seems every college and high school kid in the city had made the trek up the hill  today!
View of downtown backed by the Pacific Ocean from atop Mt Woodson.
This was an excellent work out for a sunny but cool day. And, it gave us an even greater appreciation for the lightly traveled trails in remote locations we have known in our travels!

Friday, January 11, 2013

San Diego is a Really Nice Place to be in January

We've had some cold mornings lately. After she eats breakfast, Rosie heads back to bed...

We really like walking the coast line in La Jolla. Crystal clear water, beautiful white sand and lots of rocks to poke around.

Spectacular colors!

Hot Kohls!
Aloes are in fine form all over San Diego right now

An early morning walk in nearby Rose Canyon:

Walking into the mists...
There is still some color in the coastal canyons.
Crazy stream crossing!

We've been getting all sorts of little projects done around the RV because we have tools available to us (Thanks Dad!). One fun thing is giving our new home some character. RV decor is pretty boring from the factory and you have to be careful about adding too much weight and how you hang anything because you don't really know what is behind the "curtain" so to speak.

Those who know us from our "sticks and bricks" days know we had a thing for tiki-style decor, it has such a fun, exotic vibe! We are slowly bringing in a little funky tiki flair into the RV. Hans found tiki carving artist Buzzy Meeker through the tiki forums and we had a wood plank carving done to cover up some ornamental metal trim that came with the rig:

Today we head to my parents house to assist my mom (the sewing expert) in creating some fun tiki-themed pillows for our recliners.

And so it goes...We've got one last week in San Diego before we head for the desert and new horizons once again. This next week is shaping up to be a blur of get-togethers with family, old friends and new friends.

San Diego really is a great place to be in January!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

A Small Hiccup, Quickly Fixed

HAPPY NEW YEAR! Wishing everyone a healthy, happy and peaceful year ahead.

We are looking forward to continuing our travels in 2013 and to do that we must have a healthy RV! On New Years Eve we were relaxing after dinner and when I got up to do the dishes I saw smoke coming from under the sink and it smelled funny, kind of electrical...NOT GOOD!

It had to be the water heater so we shut it off and explored the area but could not see anything out of the ordinary. Next morning we allowed the electric water heater to heat up, it seemed fine, but about 45 minutes later it started smoking again.

We had to wait to call Keystone (the RV manufacturer) and Suburban (the water heater manufacturer) on the 2nd. We had narrowed the problem down to the water heaters electric system, the propane side was working fine (YAY!).

Yesterday we took her in to the local Keystone authorized repair center (RV Solutions) and they were able to find the melted wires and fix the problem in a few short hours. We think the problem was caused when the water heater was installed at the Keystone factory and the installers didn't properly tighten the wiring nuts, where the 120 volt power connects to the water heater. This is our second time having service at RV Solutions and they were quick and professional both times.

Now we are reluctant to leave the water heater on when we are not in the rig. I shudder to think what could have happened had we been out the night of the problem. Luckily these small water heaters heat quickly, so we will get in the habit of turning it on only when we need it, just to be safe.

After having this Montana for almost 4 months now, we feel we've had a fairly trouble free start to RVing. This last hiccup was certainly the worst problem we have experienced, and with a little luck and lot of good sense monitoring and maintenance we hope to keep the problems to a minimum and our travels safe and enjoyable!

Only two weeks left in San Diego, then we're off to wild Arizona! In the meantime we're meeting lots of great folks here at the park. We've got open invitations to visit Ware and Becky in Boulder City, NV and Chris and Anita in Victoria, BC and chances are good that we will visit those places in the future. Paul and Nina of Wheeling It had a happy hour at their rig where we discovered that Dave and Sue (who we met at Santee Lakes) will be at Catalina State Park at the same time we'll be there.

Despite this little hiccup, 2013 is shaping up to be a very good year!