We last left off in Benson, AZ, doing laundry and taking showers. After our visits to a multitude of State Parks and National Parks and Monuments, we were ready for a change of pace, moving away from the majestic caverns, canyons, and mountains to spend some time in more urban settings.
Nov 14-15 (Wednesday, Thursday): We drove from Benson to Tucson, AZ, where we had reserved a spot for two nights at the Sentinel Peak RV Resort ($40 per night with Good Sam discount for full hookup and wi-fi, but, oddly, no shower facilities). This place is located just six blocks from a stop on the Sun Link Streetcar, Tucson’s version of a light rail line. After a lunch at nearby Pat’s Chili Dogs, a world famous “drive-in” where I had my first ever chili cheese dog, we walked to the streetcar stop. After purchasing two 24-hour unlimited ride tickets for $4.50 each, we rode to the end of the line, deep within the campus of the University of Arizona.
Once there, I was inspired to get a haircut and beard trim at Cost Cutters, undergoing my regular, periodic transformation from Grizzly Adams to Don Adams with a bad five-o’clock shadow. We then rode the streetcar back to our original stop and walked back to the RV park. Tucson struck me as a rather small “big” city, with a downtown even smaller than St. Paul, but an enormous surrounding metropolis of businesses, residential enclaves, and strip malls. On Thursday, we got out our bikes and rode along a gorgeous bike trail running alongside the Santa Cruz River. (The river looks very nice and blue on a map, but currently was nothing but a dry bed of gravel.) The trail was probably the best maintained bike route I’ve ever been on and featured nice views of the surrounding mountains. Several road runners also skittered across the trail as we rode along to provide entertainment. For dinner, we walked about eight blocks from the RV park, passing the chili dog emporium on the way, to a Mexican seafood place called Mariscos Chihuahua. Pat had a combo plate with three types of fish tacos, and I had something called Camaron Rellenos – shrimp stuffed with cheese and wrapped in bacon. Very tasty fare, accompanied by excellent Margaritas.
Nov 16-(Friday): We headed toward Phoenix on Friday morning, having reserved a week’s worth of time at a couple of RV resorts starting on Saturday, but before diving completely into the urban/suburban scene we stopped at a nice place called the Picacho Mountain State Park. We didn’t find any Pokemon characters there, but we stayed at a beautiful site with electricity and nice restroom and shower facilities for $30. Alas, we received no discounts. We hiked about 6 miles (round trip) to enjoy a lovely overlook on Picacho mountain in the afternoon.
Nov 17-22 (Saturday – Thursday): On Saturday we continued on to Phoenix, where we rented a tiny little car (Toyota Yaris) using credit card points before taking up residence at the Sunflower RV Resort ($39 per night with Passport America discount) in the suburban city of Surprise. We had hoped to stay there for a week, but it was fully booked starting Thursday – no doubt due to the Thanksgiving holiday – so we had to find another place for the remainder of the week. The Sunflower Resort matched my stereotype of the prototypical urban RV retirement Valhalla – a “55+ community” with more than 1400 sites, where many residents stay for the winter, many stay year-round, and some visit for just a few days or weeks. Most of the sites are permanent mobile homes, and about 10% are RVs. I can understand the attraction of a place like this for a gregarious retired couple; the weather is beautiful and there are enough organized activities to fill the day for even the most active seniors. There are also roughly a billion golf courses within just a few miles. I played golf on Sunday and Wednesday (even seeing a modest improvement in the dreadful iron play). Pat and I played pickleball on Monday, then went to visit her Uncle Harley and Aunt Jeannie at their nearby winter home and help them celebrate their 63rd wedding anniversary (yes, you read that right) at the Texas Roadhouse. On Tuesday we got the RV washed at a carwash with a very large bay area especially for trucks and RVs, then relaxed back at the resort’s Tiki bar with Margaritas, appetizers, and tacos while listening to a live duo (although at one point I thought the guitar player might have died since he didn’t move for an entire song, even though sound continued to emanate from his speaker). Unfortunately, while Pat and I qualify as 55+ and a retired couple, we are not exactly what one would call gregarious. In other words, this lifestyle is not really for us. While it’s nice to relax in a place like this for a week or so, lazily biking around the resort when so motivated, that’s about our limit. Perhaps the most telling fact is that I didn’t take a single picture while we were at the Sunflower Resort.
Nov 22-26 (Thursday – Monday): Having been denied the opportunity to stagnate for a full week at Sunflower, we moved on to the southwesterly, suburban city of Buckeye for the remainder of our planned time in the Phoenix area. We stayed at the Leaf Verde RV Resort ($40 per night with 10% Good Sam discount – the better, 50% Passport America discount is not available from October through March). This place has 377 RV sites, maybe 75% of them occupied, and a few permanent structures for year-round guests. It had far fewer amenities than the last place – for example only two pickleball courts rather than seven and no spa, stained glass or woodworking facilities, etc. But the restroom and shower facilities were very nice, and it didn’t feel nearly as crowded. We kept the car for ease of gadding about to golf courses, restaurants, and the like.
On Friday I played golf with Harley, his son Curt, and Curt’s 11-year-old son Stas. Harley proposed that we play a scramble format since Curt rarely plays golf and this was Stas’s first time on an actual 18-hole course. After the first nine, on which we used about 90% of my shots, we decided to add a competitive element – I played my own ball against the tri-generational Jergensen team, who still played a scramble format. Wouldn’t you know it, they immediately picked up their game, accompanied by a fair amount of trash talking (mostly from Harley). They won the match and bragging rights by a single hole, the total difference being a putt I left hanging over the edge of the 15th cup. It was great fun for all of us, especially when they used Stas’s drive, Harley’s second, Curt’s third, and two putts to nip me by a stroke on the par-5 13th. On Saturday we played pickleball at the RV resort (Pat won two out of three games) and went out for dinner at a very nice wine bar and pizzeria called Ciao Grazie, where all the staff wore tee-shirts with a slogan on the back: “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drink White Zinfandel.” On Sunday we drove to a nearby place called Skyline Park, with a dozen nicely marked trails winding through the mountains, with lovely vistas, friendly Saguaros raising their arms in greeting, and Teddy Bear Cholla looking as cute as, well teddy bears. We chose the 3-mile turnbuckle loop, encountering several other hikers, a couple of bikers, and even a foursome on horseback as we went.
On Monday morning we packed up camp, drove the car back to rental office in Phoenix, and headed north for our next stop. Where will it be? You’ll find out in a week or two …