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The Saaris’ (Sorta) Safe Sojourn – PART 3: Sunny and Warm

When last we left off, we were recovering from our brush with an arctic winter weather pattern at the Wolf RV Park near Deming, NM. Here’s a summary of the subsequent two weeks or so.

Oct 30 – Nov 3 (Friday – Tuesday): All traces of snow having disappeared, we enjoyed several pleasant, sunny days in New Mexico. We walked along the nicely groomed paths in the park and along the gravel roads surrounding it, enjoying views of the surrounding mountains and the desert scrubland. In addition to the little critters pictured below, we saw a herd of cows wandering freely in the area. We also enjoyed some beautiful sunsets in the evenings.

Peter Cottontail?
Friendly Tarantula
Sunset at the Wolf RV Park

We ended up making two trips into nearby Deming: one for repairing a nail puncture in the right rear tire and one for a round of golf at the Rio Mimbres Country Club. The tire repair went smoothly, with excellent service at the Big O Tire Center. The golf also went smoothly, as I shot a reasonably decent 85, though the course was not in the best shape, in large part due to drought conditions. Best of all, I didn’t lose any balls and even found one.

Repair Work at Big O Tire
Rio Mimbres Country Club, Deming, NM

I sat up all night watching election returns on Tuesday (Pat gave up and went to bed around midnight). Needless to say, my earlier optimism was not rewarded with a Biden/Harris blowout and a Senate flip, but at least it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Sadly, I could already foresee the childish tan-Trump to come.

Nov 4-5 (Wednesday – Thursday): We headed west toward Arizona on Wednesday morning as the news broke that New Mexico would be instituting a stay-at-home order due to the Covid explosion. Good thing I got that round of golf in beforehand. After a pleasant, three-hour drive, we pulled into the Kartchner Caverns State Park. It is the newest of Arizona’s 25 parks, established in 1988 after 10 years spent developing means to access and preserve the park’s prime attraction. Public access to the Kartchner Caverns didn’t actually occur until 2003. This is probably the nicest state park we have stayed at anywhere in the US. All the buildings were modern and well maintained (including great showers just a stone’s throw from our RV site). The campsites were spaced out nicely along a smooth, paved ring road, and there were many miles of hiking trails through the surrounding desert and mountain foothills.

Our site at Kartchner Caverns State Park
Hiking Trail ay Kartchner Caverns State Park

On Thursday, we took a guided tour of the Cavern’s so-called Big Room as part of a Covid-limited group of seven guests and two park rangers (all masked). The rules prohibited bringing cameras and phones inside, so I had to resort to snapping a picture of a postcard purchased at the gift shop.

Postcard featuring Kartchner Caverns

While not as huge as Carlsbad Caverns, which we visited on our previous Excellent Adventure, it was still very beautiful. With the small group, we were able to get very close to many of the formations, and the guide was excellent, explaining in detail how the caverns and the points of interest were formed and how they were discovered. All in all, we were very impressed with the place.

Nov 6-15 (Friday – subsequent Sunday): We left the state park Friday morning for the short drive to Tucson, where we rented a car before checking in to the Rincon Country West RV Resort. Believe it or not, we booked our stay for an entire MONTH! This is how many, many RV travelers spend the entire winter, simply parked in one spot at their favorite RV resort, so we decided to see how that approach might feel. Of course, these long-term campers tow along a car or truck (or tow their camper with a truck) to facilitate sightseeing and grocery shopping. Since we do not tow a car along, we rented one, to simulate the complete RV snowbird experience. Here are some of the things we did during our first nine days at Rincon West:

  • Naturally, I had to go golfing. I played at the Starr Pass Golf Course, located about five miles northwest of the RV park. It was a difficult but gorgeous layout with holes winding through the desert foothills. I managed 89 with three lost balls, so I was thrilled.
Ninth tee at Starr Pass Golf Course
It’s a tough life for this Saguaro by the fifteenth tee box
  • We visited two old friends who have moved permanently to the Tucson area from their former home in Silver Bay, MN. We enjoyed lunch and excellent conversation in their lovely, spacious new abode. (Unfortunately, I can’t reveal their names because the gentleman may be in the witness protection program due to an unfortunate encounter with a certain disreputable pharmacist. Check out this book for a fictionalized account of the matter.)
  • The excellent Tucson bicycle path system has a branch immediately adjacent to the RV park, so we have been out biking on several occasions. Here are some photos taken from the bike paths:
A view from the Tucson Loop bike path
Friendly coyotes in the wash adjacent to the bike path
Memorial Grove (Arboleta) alongside the bike path
  • Today we rode for 13 miles, and I couldn’t manage to even stay in sight of Pat. That may have to do with the new bike we got for her at REI on Friday. Little did I know that it is actually a pedal-assisted e-bike! Unfair!!!
Pat with her new bike

That covers our activities through today. Here’s an updated map of the Sojourn so far.

Still so far, so good. Stay tuned as the adventure continues …

The Saaris’ (Sorta) Safe Sojourn – PART 2: Winterlude

When last we left off, we were basking in the warm sunlight at the Questa Lodge and RV Resort in Questa, NM. Things took quite a turn thereafter, as we will see …

Oct 25-26 (Sunday, Monday): We left the Questa park around 8:30, embarking on a six-plus hour drive to the Mountain Meadows RV Park near Alamogordo, NM. Our original destination was going to be an RV Park 50 miles south of Albuquerque, which would have only been a three-hour drive. However, the weather forecast was for an arctic front descending into New Mexico Sunday afternoon and evening, with heavy snow through much of the state. So, we decided to hightail it further south in hopes of avoiding the type of weather we left home to avoid in the first place. The drive was very interesting as we passed through a wide variety of terrain – some long, straight segments through desert plains filled with scrub brush and small trees until we reached Taos, then a steady climb into the foothills of the adjacent mountains, then down through the lovely Rio Grande River gorge to more flat, scrubby desert leading to Santa Fe and eventually to the Mountain Meadows Park.

Trees alongside the Rio Grande River

Since we spent most of the day driving, we didn’t do much more on Sunday than settle into our spot and watch the local TV weather reports confirming cold temperatures, rain, and snow in the northern region we had just vacated. The park was nice, with views of distant mountains to the east and west, but in marked contrast to our previous stops on the sojourn, it was essentially full to its 20-site capacity. There was a very clean building with laundry, shower, and restroom facilities, including automatic sanitizer machines (a nice touch for the Year of the Pandemic). And even though the park was fully occupied, everyone mostly stayed in their RVs, so I didn’t encounter anyone else on my trips to the restroom and shower.

Mountain Meadows RV Park site
Landscape near the Mountain Meadows RV Park

On Monday morning, the weather was still pretty nice – temperatures in the upper fifties, but quite windy. We drove out of the park in the RV, leaving our electrical cord and welcome mat behind to signal that we were coming back that afternoon, and drove about 30 miles to the former White Sands National Monument. We were surprised to find out that it was designated as the 62nd National Park in December of 2019, thus making it the newest in the nation — so new that all but one of the signs we saw still had the National Monument designation. The National Park comprises about half of a 275 square-mile section of the Tularosa Basin consisting entirely of glistening white gypsum sand dunes formed from an ancient seabed. We first stopped at the Visitor Center to buy a postcard (for a certain set of close relatives) and a tee-shirt (for me), though we could not actually go into the gift shop due to Covid restrictions. We then drove into the park on Dunes Drive, gaining free entry with my National Parks Senior Pass (all you old farts out there really should get one – it’s the best deal you’ll ever get) and made our way to the Dune Life Nature Trail. I’ve never seen anything like it, rolling dunes as far as you can see in all directions, shaped by the wind into beautiful formations and providing an ecosystem with a variety of sparsely placed trees and shrubs and dozens of small birds, mammals, and insects.

Old sign outside the Visitor Center
The White Sands National Park gypsum sand dunes
Parking area for the Dunes Life Nature Trail
Pedestal formation
Landscaped by the wind

After our fascinating White Sands visit, we stopped at a kitschy gift shop near the RV Park that featured a statue claiming to be the world’s largest pistachio, where we bought some pistachios grown in the adjacent orchard (delicious), some caramel cashews (OK), and some pistachio infused wine (awful).

World’s largest pistachio?

When we got back to the RV Park, we were surprised to find an enormous RV beginning to set up in our site. The park manager rushed over in her golf cart to explain that she had forgotten we were still staying overnight in her hurry to find a spot for two travelers who had been battling heavy snow to the north in Tucumcari and desperately needed a place to stay. But the situation was soon rectified as another site had opened up and the big rig moved to that spot and we settled back in. We soon realized that, while our electric cord was still in place, the welcome mat was nowhere to be found. It turned out that it had blown away in the wind and caught on the property fence line, and the manager’s husband had collected it during daily rounds. By this time, it was clear that the cold weather would soon be upon us, so we didn’t hook up to the site water supply, using the RV’s fresh water tank instead, and we didn’t extend the “bump out” on the side of the RV. We hunkered down for the night as first rain and then snow began pelting down, wondering if we would be able to safely drive to our next destination in the morning.

Oct 27-29 (Tuesday – Thursday): We arose Tuesday morning to find ourselves in a winter wonderland. The skylight was totally covered, and I had the brilliant idea to open it and see how deep the snow might be. I could only open the skylight a little bit, and Pat just shook her head as I was doused by a snow shower, but my educated guess was that there was an inch or two on top. I went outside to find the ground covered – again, maybe an inch or two – light snow still falling, and a five-inch drift across the RV’s windshield. I brushed the snow off the windshield and mirrors, went to the restroom, and came back to the RV ready to take off. In deference to Pat, I agreed to wait an hour or so to see how things developed. It was clear to me that she wanted to stay another night, and I almost agreed to call the manager and ask if we could. But the snow stopped, and the ground cover began to melt, and it looked much like a normal day in Minnesota, so there was no stopping me. Off we went toward the Wolf RV Park near Deming, NM.

Morning view at Mountain Meadows (rig on the left is the would-be usurper)

The drive started off well, with mostly dry roads and little wind as we retraced our route to White Sands, acknowledging the new “National Park” sign as we passed by, and kept going west on I70. We experienced only intermittent snow flurries, and the temperature hovered around 34 degrees as we headed toward Las Cruces. But then we realized we were gradually going up as the highway reached the foothills of the Organ Mountains. Up and up we went, as the temperature went down and down and the snow began to intensify. We overtook some semi-trucks laboring up the grade, and I pulled around them in the left lane rather than slowing way down. I could feel some bad vibes coming from the passenger seat and quickly glanced over to see Pat with eyes closed, gripping the armrest tightly. I chuckled inwardly at her timidity as an SUV roared past me and I pulled out to pass yet another sluggish truck. The road began to curve as I slowly passed the semi and then realized the road was now completely covered in white. All bravado evaporated as I glanced at the dashboard and saw the temperature had dropped to 26 degrees, then looked back up to see the SUV fishtailing onto the left shoulder ahead. So maybe traveling wasn’t the very best idea of the day, after all? There we were, essentially stuck in the left lane on a snow-covered road with a potential spinout a hundred yards up the road.

Luckily, the SUV recovered, we passed the truck and eased back into the right lane, and I hung on for another five minutes as the road wiggled through the highest pass in the mountains and began to descend, once again becoming dry and safe. The temperature began to rise again as we drove downhill into Las Cruces, where we decided to pull off at a gas station and have lunch in the RV. By the time we were ready to start off once more, the snow was pelting down hard and I had to brush off my mirror again, but it eased off and the freeway was clear all the way to Deming. We did encounter a major slowdown where some jackknifed trucks were being cleared away, presumably from earlier in the morning, but otherwise the rest of the trip was uneventful.

Driving toward Las Cruces

We drove about 10 miles from Deming along a series of ever-smaller roads, drifted over with snow in several places, and finally a gravel road leading to the entrance gate of the Wolf RV Park, an adults-only campground with 33 RV sites and the tagline “Welcome to simple tranquility.” It was tranquil, all right, located in the middle of the desert about a mile away from I10, with only a few isolated buildings nearby. The manager was very clear that, if we were arriving from one of the “high-risk” states (including Minnesota and every other one except Hawaii, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine), we would need to self-quarantine at our site for up to 14 days – no going to town for groceries, no going to the laundry room, no walking around the park – just lock ourselves away. Hmmmmm. To our great good fortune, we were arriving from Alamogordo, New Mexico! (Interesting how the previous New Mexico park managers never brought this up, eh?) An hour after we were settled into our site, it began to snow. After dinner, I unhooked the water supply so our hose wouldn’t freeze as the low temperature dropped to 24 degrees. As I stepped out of the RV on Wednesday morning, I wondered if our 2,000-mile journey so far had all been a dream and we were really back in Minnesota.

Tuesday afternoon at Wolf RV Park
Wednesday Morning at Wolf RV Park
Wednesday afternoon at Wolf RV Park

But then it began to warm up. By Thursday afternoon it was in the 60s. As we strolled around the park and on the gravel roads in the surrounding desert, basking in the sunshine, I realized that the last few days had been nothing but a reminder of why we left Minnesota, just a brief winterlude, if you will. Our plan now is to stay at the Wolf RV Park until after Election Day (when we will hopefully have a decisive Biden/Harris victory and a Senate flip to celebrate) before heading west into Arizona.

Thursday view of Wolf RV Park (at left amid the trees)

Here’s an updated map of the Sojourn thus far:

Still so far, so good. Stay tuned as the adventure continues …

The Saaris’ (Sorta) Safe Sojourn – PART 1

OK, you can stop holding your collective breath now. On October 11, 2020, nearly two years after we departed on our first extended camping journey (Pat and Dave’s Excellent Adventure), I drove the RV away from its parking spot alongside the cabin in Grand Marais, MN, for another 6-month tour. Pat had left a few days earlier with the car, to collect trip stuff from the condo and get it ready for winter. Brian is once again staying at the cabin all winter, this time with his new dog, Pippin.

As some may remember, I documented the last winter trip in some detail through a series of twelve blog posts, each covering roughly a two-week period. That was great fun for me and even served a useful purpose by providing a record of the trip for posterity. Surprisingly, several readers told me they actually enjoyed the blog posts. Therefore, I’ll be doing the same thing again this time around: posting a series of articles with brief thumbnail sketches of where we’ve been and perhaps a few pithy observations about the joys and pitfalls of this nomadic existence, including the challenges presented by Covid-19. Here goes my first effort for 2020-21.

Oct 11-12 (Sunday, Monday): I took off at about 8:30 AM and drove to the Baker Park Reserve in Maple Plain, a suburb west of Minneapolis. After fighting the wind all the way, I settled into a nice campsite beneath a colorful maple tree for a two-night stay. I was gratified to find the campground only about 25% occupied, making it very easy to socially distance when not holed up in the RV. On Monday, I took the RV to the local Mercedes Sprinter dealer for 20,000-mile maintenance service ahead of the trip, to make sure the van was shipshape and ready to go. That evening, I decided for some reason to visit the web site of the Pine Lake State Park in Eldora, IA, where we had stayed both on the way south and when returning north during our Excellent Adventure. We had planned to go there again, in no small part due to the nice golf course next to the park. We hadn’t made a reservation and didn’t expect it to be busy, but I just thought I should check the status. Good thing I did, because the park is CLOSED for maintenance, so our trip almost got off to a not-so-great start. After a consultation by phone with Pat at the condo, I reserved a site at the Blue Mounds State Park in Luverne, MN, instead. We didn’t really want to go to Covid-challenged Iowa, anyway, nice golf course or not.

Baker Park Campsite

Oct 13-14 (Tuesday, Wednesday): I met Pat at her brother’s house in Minnetonka, MN at 10 AM, where we left the car in care of the in-laws for the duration of the trip. By the time we had loaded up all the stuff Pat brought along, I though the RV might burst at the seams. Somehow, we seem to have about twice as much as we did the last time, but we just piled all the excess on the bed and took off, vowing to reorganize once we got to the first campground. Again, I felt as though I was battling a ferocious wind all the way and felt exhausted when we arrived. Our campsite was very nice, located only a short walk from the very clean restroom and shower facilities. There were very few other campers at the park, bolstering our feeling of safety from the virus. On Wednesday, we took a hike to go visit the resident bison herd. Since they were hunkered down at the most remote spot possible, it ended up being a seven-mile trek (3.5 miles each way). Pat ended up with a blister from her new hiking boots, and my feet felt absolutely awful, but it was well worth it.

Our site
“North Mound Springs”
Bison Grazing (I counted more than fifty total in the herd)

Oct 15-16 (Thursday, Friday): We motored off at about 10 AM and drove to the Platte River State Park near Louisville, NE. The drive was taxing, as the wind was again quite robust. We had tried to reserve a site on Wednesday, but were unable to do so because online reservations can only be made two or more days in advance. The Nebraska parks website indicated that walk-up sites might be available, so, feeling adventurous, we decided to give it a shot anyway. Along the way, we stopped at a HyVee near Omaha for groceries and were very pleased to find all of the patrons wearing masks and making an effort to distance in the store. But when we got to the Park, there were no sites available. Luckily, we did find a spot at the nearby Louisville State Recreation Area (one of only two sites available). Happy to have found a spot, we settled in to the better of the sites, though I was a bit disconcerted by the large number of campers in residence. However, we were able to avoid close contact with anyone else and enjoyed a pleasant walk along the nearby Platte River on Friday afternoon. I even met a friend in the woods along the way.

Platte River at Louisville State Recreation Area
Trees are our friends!!!

Oct 17-18 (Saturday, Sunday): We hit the road around 10 AM Saturday, this time having an easier drive without much wind as we made our way to the Webster State Park near Stockton, KS. Shortly before arrival at the Park, we stopped for fuel at Mac’s Kwik Stop in Phillipsburg, KS. After filling the RV, I went into the store to pay, wearing my mask, and had to wait while a maskless customer chatted with the masked cashier. The customer felt a need to ask why the cashier was wearing a mask, and my Spidey sense told me to stay far, far away until he left the store, already feeling a bit jittery about traveling through Trump territory. But, when we got to the Park, I was quite relieved to find that the site we had reserved was totally isolated from other human beings. Anxieties thus suitably calmed, this Finnish introvert was able to relax before our next foray onto the highways. On Sunday, we took a nice, 4-mile hike on a trail that wound along the reservoir adjacent to the Park and through the undulating terrain, featuring prairie grasses, small shrubs and trees, and multiple limestone (I think) bluffs and outcroppings.

Social distancing at Webster State Park
View from hiking trail at Webster State Park

Oct 19-21 (Monday-Wednesday): As we were leaving Wednesday morning, I decided to stop at a bait and tackle store within the park to ask if they could fill the RV propane tank. I went inside (wearing my mask, of course) where the maskless proprietress told me they only carried small propane tanks. I hightailed it back to the camper. As we drove along a series of generally straight and narrow roads through the flat prairie lands toward Colorado, I couldn’t help but reflect on the fact that 67% of the people I had close encounters with in Kansas weren’t wearing masks, seemingly validating the stereotype about red state residents. When we eventually crossed the state line, we were greeted by a large sign stating that masks are required in all public places in Colorado, which again bolstered my confidence in the safety of our sojourn. We stopped in the town of Lamar, CO, for the propane fill we couldn’t get earlier, plus diesel fuel, groceries, and some comfort beverages made from grapes and barley. Of the roughly one hundred people we encountered there, 98% were wearing masks, significantly better than in Kansas. But I also realized that we had travelled through the entire state of Kansas, including two nights’ lodging, and only had close encounters with three people! Once again in a good state of mind about what we are doing, we motored off to the John Martin Reservoir State Park.

The John Martin Reservoir was created by damming up the Arkansas River back in the late 1930s and early 1940s. The park was very nice, and our site was at least a sand wedge shot away from any other campers. We spent three relaxing days there, walking along a trail around the small lake (Lake Hasty) downstream of the huge dam, observing wildlife (a flock of turkeys roaming the park, some killdeer along the shore, a host of ducklike birds swimming in the lake, and several flocks of sandhill cranes flying south), listening to the sweet serenade of coyotes or wolves at night, and even doing laundry in the nice park facilities. And we did all of this without coming within 50 yards of another human being, except for the masked park ranger when we checked in on Wednesday.

Our well-isolated campsite at John Martin Reservoir State Park
Lake Hasty in the afternoon

Oct 22-25 (Thursday-Saturday): At 10 AM Thursday, we headed off toward New Mexico. For the first part of the trip, the drive was easy and wind-free as we drove through the high plains along very straight roads. We did encounter some wind as our route wound along a pass through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, reaching an elevation close to 9,000 ft, but the scenery was beautiful and there were very few white-knuckle moments. Our destination, the Questa Lodge and RV Park, proved to be a very pleasant, six-acre property with 40 RV sites (as well as several cabins), nestled at 7461 ft. elevation among the surrounding hills and mountains. The campground was only about half full, so we again had plenty of separation from the other campers, virtually all of whom kept to themselves at their own sites. We spent some time walking around, enjoying the small river and duck pond, and even broke out our bikes for the first time to ride to a nearby convenience store for supplies. The campground also had very good Wi-Fi service, affording an opportunity to make this inaugural post as well as to watch some TV with our streaming service.

Our lovely site at the Questa Lodge and RV Campsite
The duck pond
The river

All in all, we’re off to a good start, my only regret being no opportunity for golf so far (but I’m sure I’ll remedy that before too long). Stay tuned as the adventure continues …

Here’s a map of our progress so far:

Coming Soon to a Blog near You – Another Winter RV Trip

On October 22, 2018, Pat and I departed from our cozy cabin home in Grand Marais, MN, for a 6-month tour in our RV (a 24-Foot Unity model by Leisure Travel Vans of Winkler, Manitoba, Canada). That trip was a bucket list item for us, and we thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it, as documented in a 12-part series of posts on this intrepid blog entitled, with minimal hyperbole, “Pat and Dave’s Excellent Adventure.” My final summary in Part 12 of that series was as follows:

  • From October 22, 2018 through April 22, 2019, we travelled 10,200 miles in the RV, plus several hundred more (not tracked) in three rental cars and our own car.
  • We visited 11 states, 9 National Parks, 2 National Monuments, 1 National Recreation Area, and 12 or more State Parks in Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California.

After this truly Excellent Adventure, we were ready for a repeat performance during the winter of 2019-2020, tentatively dubbed “Pat and Dave’s Eastern Extravaganza,” intended to focus on the eastern US in much the same way that we’d covered the western states the first time. Unfortunately, I had some annoying but not serious health issues involving multiple doctor visits, leading us to abandon the plan.

To make up for missing out on the Eastern Extravaganza, we decided to take several non-RV trips during the winter and spring of 2020. In January, we flew to Miami, rented a car, and drove to Key West for a program sponsored by the Road Scholars group. In March, Pat booked a second Road Scholars trip, this time to Hilton Head, SC, for a pickleball clinic. I passed on pickleball but went along anyway to play golf. We enjoyed both trips immensely – here are a few photos:

Key West 3 Key West 4

Key West 2

Hilton Head 2

Hilton Head 1

Before returning from Hilton Head, we were supposed to spend three days in Savannah, GA, celebrating our 41st wedding anniversary. However, as everyone is well aware, Covid-19 reared its ugly head at that time, so we hightailed it back to our condo in Minneapolis to hunker down.

The third planned RV substitute was a Viking River Cruise starting on the Rhine and ending in Paris, planned for late April and early May. Alas, that dream was also shattered by Covid-19 as Viking cancelled all of their excursions. (We did receive a full refund and have rebooked the trip for May of 2021. Perhaps it will actually happen.)

We eventually returned to Grand Marais and spent what turned out to be a very nice summer at the cabin, properly social distancing and happily wearing our masks as required (initially by the town’s merchants and eventually by the Governor). Luckily for us, our favorite recreations are outdoor activities that can still be done safely during the pandemic – golf for me and pickleball and pop tennis for Pat.

But we still had the itch to get out in the RV, so we took it for a couple of trips – to test RV safety in the Covid-infected waters, so to speak. In July, we ventured down the Lake Superior shore to Gooseberry State Park, and in September we went a bit farther, to Lake Itasca State Park.

Gooseberry 1

Gooseberry 2

Itasca 1Itasca 3

Itasca 2

It felt good to be travelling again, and we were pleased to find that our fellow travelers were taking the pandemic seriously – maintaining distance and wearing masks in the limited number of open buildings and everywhere that people congregated, whether indoor or out. At night, as we sat together inside the RV, we asked ourselves the all-important question: Does this feel safe enough to try another big RV excursion?

The answer was yes, though we won’t do it quite the same way this time. We expect to stay at fewer places for longer durations, and if we feel uncomfortable anywhere, we’ll pull up stakes and find someplace more to our liking. But yes, yes, yes – we’re going to do it.

Stay tuned for more blog posts about our coming winter travels. Beginning in early October and lasting (we hope) until April 2021, you can follow us again as we embark on …

The Saaris’ (Sorta) Safe Sojourn!!!

More Author News

Here’s a quick note regarding some recent activity related to my golf-themed mystery books:

  1. My fourth book, Dog Leg Left, has recently been added to the collection at the Grand Marais Public Library, joining Snowman, Slice, and Lateral Hazard on the shelves.
  2. Dog Leg Left is also now on sale at three book stores in Grand Marais, MN — Birchbark Books and Gifts, The Trading Post, and Drury Lane Books. (Birchbark and Trading Post also carry the other three books, but Drury Lane hasn’t taken the full plunge yet.)
  3. Dog Leg Left was also reviewed in the September 2020 edition of Northern Wilds, a monthly magazine distributed along the North Shore of Lake Superior from Duluth. MN, to Thunder Bay, Ontario. Here’s what reviewer Breana Roy had to say:

“Local author Dave Saari’s fourth mystery novel again features rising-star golfer Samantha Williamson and her caddie/lover Terry Hatchett. The story begins with the duo playing golf at the Gunflint Hills Golf Course in Grand Marais. After a startling discovery in the rough on Gunflint’s par four, Sam and Terry find themselves on another mysterious adventure, stumbling into a tangled web of smuggling, drugs, and murder. Taking place at various North Shore locations, with likable, quirky characters, Dog Leg Left is a fast-paced mystery novel, perfect for both golf fanatics and North Shore enthusiasts alike.” 

If Ms. Roy’s review inspires you to action, just click here to purchase a copy.

 

Dave Saari Books now in Minnesota Libraries

I’m pleased to announce that my four mystery novels are now available for reading in eBook format through Minnesota libraries that subscribe to the Indie Minnesota program (MN READS WRITES). This service is provided by Biblioboard, an eBook reading platform for libraries. You can access the books directly using the following links:

Dog Leg Left

Lateral Hazard

Snowman

Slice

After clicking on the link, you should see a page that looks like this:

BiblioPage

Just click on “READ THIS” and an eBook will appear. So now, folks who may be interested in reading my golf-themed mystery novels, but not quite enough to part with $2.99 for an eBook, can read them for FREE!! Try it and enjoy!

Author Update

Chalk up another victory for Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world. In this case, it’s also a victory for mystery golf book fans who may want to purchase one of my books in paperback format.

As I’ve reported in previous posts, I’ve almost always had the dream of writing novels, starting with my first attempt, My Dog and I, at age six. Since I’ve also always had the desire to feed myself and, later, my family, I never let that dream get in the way of reality, though I did make the occasional attempt at landing a publisher. After my first golf-themed mystery, Snowman, had been rejected four or five times, I was ready to give up the dream entirely. But then one day I heard a news story on the radio about Lulu Press, one of the first print-on-demand (POD) publishing houses. Lulu was designed for ordinary folks like me, providing the opportunity to self-publish works that don’t meet the revenue goals of the traditional publishers. Soon thereafter, in 2006, Snowman was released to the world as a POD paperback through Lulu. As the popularity of eBooks grew over the years, I decided to add an eBook option for Snowman. Since Amazon was then and still is the dominant source for eBooks, I used Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) for the eBook.

Somewhere along the line, Lulu also began offering worldwide distribution of paperback books through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Ingram Distribution, so I decided to opt into that to broaden the scope of availability for Snowman. Unfortunately, adding this additional distribution network required increasing the retail price of the paperback to a minimum of $15.00, to cover the additional costs of the various players in the chain. Lulu did allow setting a discount for purchases through Lulu, so the Lulu price was set to $13.50.

Since retirement gave me more time to write, I’ve subsequently added three more golf-themed mysteries to my repertoire, Slice, Lateral Hazard, and Dog Leg Left. All three were also published as paperbacks on Lulu and eBooks on KDP. All were priced in the same way — $2.99 for eBooks, $15.00 retail price and $13.50 Lulu price for paperbacks. I always found the publishing process to be quite easy, so I never really considered alternative POD publishers. I was often asked by other independent authors why I didn’t just publish the paperbacks on KDP, which has since added paperback publishing as well as eBooks. I’m a bit stubborn and averse to change, and I also felt that maybe Amazon didn’t need to get every last bit of my book business, so I just kept on with the way I had started.

But then, about a month ago, everything changed at Lulu. Some genius decided to “upgrade” the Lulu website. I visited the site one day to make a routine check on my sales and revenues, and found utter chaos. Some of the books on my author page did not have cover images, all displayed a note stating that distribution was “pending,” the sales and revenue page informed me that I hadn’t sold any books at all, and — worst of all — the discount for buying from Lulu was gone. I subsequently received some communications from Lulu explaining that they were working diligently to fix the missing cover images and the missing revenue data, while also implying that the higher price was also an error to be fixed soon. But, eventually, they posted an FAQ page about all the wonderful changes they’d made, including the fact that the discount was permanently gone.

The presumably unintended result of this grand upgrade was that I decided to explore publishing the paperback books on KDP instead of on Lulu. Lo and behold, I found that the process was just as easy and also that the publishing cost was actually less on KDP than on Lulu. The upshot of all this is that I am now able to offer the paperback books for $9.99 from Amazon, including worldwide distribution through other sources, and by dropping the global option at Lulu I can reduce the price to $9.99 there as well. I’ve done this already for Dog Leg Left and Lateral Hazard and will do it for Snowman and Slice in the near future. Check out the books page for details and purchase links.

So, as I said, another win for Jeff Bezos, as well as for mystery readers. Since I’m not exactly racking up world record book sales, I’m sure Jeff won’t even notice. But you can now save up to $5.01 for a thrilling read during the Covid-19 doldrums. Not too bad, eh?

 

The Eagles’ New Home

Over the years, I’ve posted a few articles about the magnificent eagles that reside near our Grand Marais home: Our Eagle Friends, Spring 2017, The Back Yard. As reported, we found their nest in our “back yard” while out snowshoeing during the winter of 2016. Sadly, a ferocious wind storm in the fall of 2018 knocked over the tree supporting their nest. Here’s what it looked like in May 2019 – I saw no sign of eagles on the day I took this photo.

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Thinking about the birds returning in 2019 to find their home ruined made me very sad, but we still saw eagles flying back into the woods, making me wonder if they had built a new nest somewhere in the vicinity. Today, I trekked through the rough terrain to have a look at the old site again, just to satisfy my curiosity. As I drew near, I was surprised to hear the unmistakable screech of an eagle. Looking up, here is what I saw:

This bird was obviously telling me to get the heck away from there, presumably protecting some eggs in a nest. Would the eagles actually be reusing their old home again? That seemed unlikely to me, but certainly possible. After shooting the video, I hightailed it out of there, with the bird still following along, circling overhead and squawking until I was well away and clearly no longer a threat before flying back toward the old nest. It wasn’t until I got back home and watched the video that I noticed a new nest in a nearby tree. I’d been inadvertently standing a dozen feet away from the eagles’ new home! Here’s a still from the video:

Eagles' New Home

It’s no wonder the bird was so agitated by my presence. I’ll need to go back and check it out again sometime, but I’ll be sure to stay far away from the new home site. I probably should wait until after nesting season is over, although it’s much harder to walk back in the woods later in the spring with all the vegetation springing to life. Maybe I’ll just wait until winter and go in with snowshoes again.

The US Endangered Species Act of 1973 is credited with saving many species from extinction, including the magnificent bald eagle, the proud symbol of our country. As I noted in a previous post, I am so thankful for the wise people who decided that these magnificent birds were worth saving. Now our so-called President and his wrecking crew of right-wing cabinet members is intent on gutting the Act at the urging of big business (https://www.npr.org/2019/08/12/750479370/).

As I also said previously, we are all diminished when we allow nature’s beautiful creatures to perish due to the constant pursuit of the almighty dollar and the cynical quest for votes. If you don’t already have enough reasons to vote for Joe Biden this November, here’s one more – do it to honor the eagles and to protect their endangered brethren from Donald Trump.

Pat and Dave’s Excellent Adventure – PART 12: Finale

Our last (penultimate) episode ended in Tusayan, AZ, adjacent to the Grand Canyon National Park. Here’s a brief summary of our final travels.

April 3 (Wednesday): We drove 146 miles from Tusayan to the Homolovi State Park near Winslow, AZ, for a 1 night stay at a site with electric and water hookups. This State Park includes several archaeological sites which are remnants of prehistoric settlements of the Hisat’sinom, which is the Hopi word for “long-ago people.” These sites are considered sacred to the Hopi, and they ask that visitors treat the settlements with respect by not disturbing anything or taking photographs. After settling in at the campground, I rode my bike about half a mile to one of the sites and walked around the pathways marked for visitors. It was fascinating to see these remnants, such as pottery shards and stone walls, from a village that was occupied between 1330 and 1400 AD. The RV campground was very nice, with widely spaced sites and expansive views of the desert terrain and far-off mountains. As luck would have it, another couple from Cleveland pulled in to a nearby site in a Leisure Travel Vans Unity RV (same brand as ours) and had to come over and compare notes about our campers – just what a curmudgeonly hermit like me hopes for during dinner. NOT!

April 4 (Thursday): The next day, we drove 204 miles from Homolovi State Park to the Lavaland RV Park near Grants, NM, where we spent the night in a site with full hookups. The interesting thing about this park was an on-site microbrewery. I strolled over to check it out shortly after we arrived, and enjoyed a pint of something called Bombin’ Out Piñon Stout, flavored with piñon nuts as you probably guessed. Delicious!

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April 5 (Friday): On Friday, we drove 250 miles to Tucumcari, NM, where we stayed one night at the Blaze-In-Saddle RV Park. On the entire trip, we didn’t see many places that looked sadder than Tucumcari. Formerly a thriving part of the famous Route 66, the road leading into the city is now lined on both sides with vacant and decaying buildings. The main part of town still has a fair number of residents and businesses, but it must be no more than half what it was back in the glory days. What a shame that no enterprise has come in to revitalize the place. The RV park was nice enough, with full hookups, but when we drove off the next day, we inadvertently left our leveling jack pads behind. I hope the next folks made good use of them!

April 6 (Saturday): We drove 207 miles to Liberal, KS on Saturday. Any thought that the political leanings of the place might match the city name were quickly dispelled as we passed by the local High School, which sported a large sign proclaiming itself as the “Proud Home of the Redskins.” Pfui. We parked the RV at a simple site with an electrical hookup. And what did I discover as I rode my bike over to the nearby Event Center to deposit a check for the site? The Willow Tree Golf Course, that’s what! So, I schlepped about a mile over to the clubhouse with my golf clubs and played 18 holes. The course was very nice, though flat as a pancake, with excellent fairways and greens. I played very well (for an old duffer) and enjoyed the beautiful spring afternoon.

April 7 (Sunday): The next day we were off again, for a 195-mile drive to the Sand Hills State Park near Buehler, KS. Overnight, the wind had come up, and we made the entire drive in a howling fury, buffeted by gusts that had to be near 50 mph. Worst of all, the highway was a two-lane affair, and whenever we encountered a semi-trailer truck going the opposite direction we were temporarily shielded from the wind, nearly sucking us into the wrong lane before the subsequent blast threw us back toward the right-hand ditch. By the time we reached the State Park, I could barely pry my hands off the wheel, and I was exhausted beyond belief. We found a nice RV site with full hookups, but hardly ventured out of the RV for fear of blowing away to he Land of Oz like Dorothy and Toto.

April 8 (Monday): Thankfully, the wind died down overnight before we left on our next leg, a 261-mile jaunt to the Wallace State Park near Cameron, MO. There, we were able to camp in a very nice RV site with water and electric hookups and a trailhead just steps away. Feeling much more relaxed than the day before, we hiked several miles around the park trails before retiring for the night.

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April 9-12 (Tuesday-Friday): On Tuesday, we continued our near-sprint toward home with a 224-mile drive to the Pine Lake State Park near Eldora, IA. This is the same place we stayed way back when (October 23-24, 2018), our first stop outside of MN on our way south at the beginning of the Excellent Adventure. As faithful readers may recall, there is a golf course right next to the park, and I walked over there with my clubs right after we made camp in a site with an electric hookup. The weather was not too bad, mostly cloudy but warm enough (upper 50s). By the time I had played the 9-hole course twice, the weather began to deteriorate. By late afternoon it was sprinkling, and by late evening it was raining steadily. So, our sprint home stalled out there in Eldora as we were pelted by heavy rain for three days straight. Meanwhile, Minnesota was suffering through a veritable blizzard, so we just hunkered down in Iowa to wait it out. We ended up staying four nights at Pine Lake State Park, without encountering a single other camper. I guess most people realized it was too early for camping.

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April 13-21 (Saturday-Saturday-Sunday): On Saturday we boldly ventured north to Minnesota. Almost comically, within a mile or two of crossing the border from Iowa, the ground was covered with snow. The sun was shining brightly, though, doing its best to melt it all away. After a 209-mile drive, we arrived at our son, Nick’s, home in Brooklyn Center, MN. The snow melted within a few days, and we stayed in the Twin Cities for just over a week doing various things, such as recovering our car from son Matt (who had served as its steward all winter), running errands that we had put off while traveling about the country, and visiting with family members, including a lovely Easter dinner at Pat’s brother Allen’s new home in Minnetonka. We actually stayed with Allen and his wife, LeAnne, during the week while the RV rested up in Nick’s driveway for the final leg of the trip home.

April 22 (Monday): After one final, 268-mile drive, I arrived home with the RV on Monday afternoon.

So that’s the end of our Excellent Adventure! Below is a map of our travels home from the Grand Canyon. (Click here for maps of the entire trip.)

Map 6

Thanks to those faithful readers who have followed the adventure! I’ll leave you with a few final notes:

  • From October 22, 2018 through April 22, 2019, we travelled 10,200 miles in the RV, plus several hundred more (not tracked) in three rental cars and our own car.
  • We visited 11 states, 9 National Parks, 2 National Monuments, 1 National Recreation Area, and 12 or more State Parks in Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California.
  • We stayed at a wide array of RV Parks, from simple campgrounds with 10 or 20 sites to elaborate villages with over a thousand sites. All of them were nice, but I enjoyed the less fancy ones better.
  • We had more fun than any two senior citizens have a right to expect, and we can’t wait to make another RV trip starting this fall.

Pat and Dave’s Excellent Adventure – PART 11: Gorgeous Gulches

Our last episode ended at Desert Hot Springs, CA. From there, we headed east and visited some beautiful canyons as we began heading back home.

March 15-21 (Friday-Thursday): Our first stop was the Pirates Den RV Resort, located in what’s known as the Parker Strip in Arizona, a 10-15 mile stretch along the Colorado River just across from California. We had driven westward along Highway 95 through the area back in December, and I was entranced by views of a beautiful golf course on both sides of the highway. At the time, I vowed to play the course on our way back east, so before leaving California we made a one-week reservation for a full-hookup site at the RV park closest to it. The RV park was a bit silly with its pirate-themed décor, but the on-site restaurant (The Black Pearl) had very good food, and we enjoyed a couple of meals there, including a dinner commemorating our 40th Anniversary on March 17. The park also had good laundry and shower facilities, but the real attraction was the golf course, called Emerald Canyon. The clubhouse is located just across the main access road to the park, about a half mile walk from our RV site. During our week’s stay, I trudged over there and back with my clubs three times and had probably my most enjoyable golfing of the entire trip. The course was even more beautiful than I had expected based on my initial sighting back in December. Twelve of the holes are located on the northwest side of the highway, and six are located on the southeast side – the cart paths go underneath the highway four times through two tunnels during the course of an eighteen-hole round. Some holes are located in the relatively flat terrain of the Colorado River basin, while others are at substantially higher elevations in a beautiful series of canyons that wind among the foothills of the nearby mountains, and the elevation changes result in spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. The fairways and greens were in beautiful condition; even though the Parker Strip region is semi-arid, the course has several ponds that serve the dual purpose of irrigation for the course and fish hatcheries for the Arizona DNR. The fairways that run through the canyons are very narrow, placing a high priority on accurate tee shots as opposed to distance. I played from the Diamond (white) tees at an overall length of 5897 yards for the par 72 layout. Despite fighting an occasional wicked duck hook, which resulted in several lost ball penalties, I managed to play fairly well the first two times and quite well the third time – over the three rounds I managed to birdie one hole, make bogey or par on sixteen others, and only had one unconquerable hole which I double-bogeyed every time. After those three rounds, I decided not to give up the game again in the foreseeable future.

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March 22-24 (Friday-Sunday): On Friday, we headed for Bullhead City, AZ, where we decided to stop for three nights at the Silver View RV Resort. This is a place we had stayed at back in November, located on a hill overlooking the Colorado River. I remembered the on-site deli where I had a Nathan’s hot dog special the last time, so naturally I needed another one of those for lunch on Saturday. We did a little biking and hiking around the RV Park, but basically were just resting up over the weekend for our upcoming visits to more gorgeous gulches.

March 25-27 (Monday-Wednesday): On Monday, we headed north to Utah, where we stayed for three nights at the Temple View RV Resort in St. George. The drive from Bullhead City to St. George was interesting, consisting of three distinct phases. First came the flat, desert terrain of southern Nevada as we headed toward Las Vegas. Then came the hectic freeway jumble of the greater Las Vegas area, followed by a long stretch of straight road, again through flat, desert terrain, as we followed I 15 to the northeast and across the northwest corner of Arizona. But eventually the highway ahead seemed to just disappear into the distant mountains. As we neared the Utah border, I 15 took a sharp left turn (which had hidden the road from view) into the foothills, and we were then treated to spectacular canyon views as the highway wound back and forth through multiple switchbacks for the rest of the way. St. George itself was not a particularly scenic city, but the surrounding views in all directions were stunning, with several snow-capped peaks providing a sharp contrast to the predominant red of the nearby hills. The RV park took its name from a nearby LDS Temple, its brilliant white spire rising majestically about a mile away. I was very excited to find a DQ adjacent to the RV Park, literally steps from our site, so we naturally had to go there for a late lunch on Monday. (I had the 4-piece chicken strip basket, to no one’s surprise, since I hadn’t had one since leaving Grand Marais six months ago.) We discovered a bike path about two blocks away, which provided access to an excellent network of paths that we explored on Tuesday and Wednesday. Our Wednesday circuit covered about 8 miles, so I didn’t feel too guilty about the DQ indulgence.

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March 28-30 (Thursday-Saturday): On Thursday, we headed west to the town of Springdale, UT, where we stayed for three nights at the Zion Canyon RV Campground, just outside the Zion National Park. We spent the next three days exploring Zion, our eighth National Park visit since October. The National Park Service (NPS) runs an excellent shuttle bus service with nine stops in the town of Springdale, including one about two hundred yards from our RV site. This shuttle takes people to a small market square area adjacent to the National Park. A pedestrian walkway leads to the entrance gate, where I happily displayed my Lifetime Senior Access pass for free entry into the Park. Inside the park, the NPS runs another shuttle service with stops at nine of the most popular sites. On Thursday, we rode the shuttle all the way to Stop 9, the Temple of Sinawa, enjoying the recorded commentary describing the various park attractions and trails along the way. From Stop 9, we took a 2.2-mile hike along the Virgin River, before riding the shuttle back to the main Visitor Center.

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On Friday, we first rode to Stop 7, Weeping Rock, for a short, half-mile hike and a close-up view of a fascinating waterfall that spews directly out of the sandstone cliff. We then rode back to Stop 5, Zion Lodge, where we took a 1.2-mile hike to the Lower Emerald Pool before having lunch at the Lodge. We then rode to Stop 3, Canyon Junction, and walked 2 miles from there to the Park entrance. On Saturday, we eschewed the shuttle, walking a mile to Stop 2, Museum, where we watched a movie about the park history, before heading back to our campsite.

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Zion was definitely a highlight of the trip, with an endless supply of beautiful scenery, excellent, easy access to all the main sites, and just the right amount of hiking for two old duffers. We did see some people climbing along the Park’s most famous trail, to Angels Landing. They looked like ants as we rode past on the shuttle bus. After listening to the description of the harrowing trail, from which several people have plunged to their deaths over the years, I opted to skip that hike and buy an Angels Landing tee shirt instead.

March 31 (Sunday): On Sunday, we left the Zion Canyon Campground and headed back to Nevada, planning to overnight at Lake Mead on our way to the next Gorgeous Gorge. We decided to take a more scenic route rather than going back via Las Vegas, and as a result, we had one of the overall most interesting drives of our adventure. After backtracking through St. George and the scenic mountain canyons we saw on the way to Zion and cutting across northwestern Arizona, we turned south off of I 15 onto Nevada State Highway 169. This less-travelled highway passes through the Moapa Valley and enters the National Recreation Area from the north. Along the way, we stopped for lunch and took a short hike along the Redstone Dune trail, where we saw some fascinating red sandstone formations.

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Then it was on to the Lake Mead National Recreation Area’s Boulder Beach campground in an RV site with no hookups. We had stayed here for two nights back in November and found it very nice, so it seemed like a good overnight stop. I did some biking along the nearby bike trail in the afternoon, but otherwise we were just resting up for the next day’s long trip.

April 1-2 (Monday-Tuesday): On Monday, we departed from Lake Mead and headed for Tusayan, AZ. This was roughly a four-hour drive, which is the most we like to do in one day. At Tusayan, we stayed for two nights at the Grand Canyon Camper Village in a site with electric and water hookups. After settling in and getting oriented on Monday evening, we boarded the Tusayan shuttle on Tuesday morning and headed for the granddaddy of Gorgeous Gorges, the Grand Canyon itself. We last visited the Grand Canyon in 2005 with our sons, Nick and Brian. Since then, the NPS has instituted a shuttle system much like the Zion system. (Or, if it did exist back then, we weren’t aware of it.) There is a line with about five stops in the town of Tusayan that runs into the Park, bypassing the long line of vehicles waiting at the entrance gate, with a drop off at the main Visitor Center. Within the park, there are three lines that run along the south rim road and through the Grand Canyon Village, with multiple stops at excellent viewing locations. Once we arrived at the Visitor Center, we took the Orange Line to Yaki Point, the easternmost location served by the shuttles. After some walking and gawking, we rode back to the Visitor Center, rode a Blue Line shuttle through the village, then took a Green Line shuttle to Hermits Rest, the westernmost shuttle stop. The total distance from Yaki Point to Hermits Rest, if one were to walk along the rim trail, is thirteen miles. We had a sandwich lunch at Hermits Rest and had planned to walk around there for a bit, but the weather had turned a bit snarly and we were pelted with rain and wind as we ate. So, we jumped back on the shuttle and stopped for short hikes at Hopi Pont and Powell Point. Then it was back to the Village to look at the Railroad Station, on to the Visitor Center to buy a cap, and some walking along the rim trail (by then, the weather had become more pleasant.)

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The Grand Canyon, our ninth National Park visit of the trip, is truly spectacular. There are two main differences as compared with Zion. First, the scale of the Grand Canyon is immense – no description or photo can truly convey the vastness of the place – while Zion is huge but more fathomable. Second, Zion visitors enter the canyon at the bottom and look up at the scenery above, while Grand Canyon visitors enter at the top and look down at the scenery below. The Grand Canyon (6.4 million annual visitors) and Zion (4.3 million) are the second and fourth most visited National Parks. The excellent, totally free shuttle systems make them both extremely visitor friendly, and they both ought to be on most people’s bucket lists.

 

That’s it for this episode! Now we’re starting to head for home, back in Minnesota. Check back in a couple of weeks for the final installment of this Excellent Adventure series. Below is a map of our travels since leaving Palm Springs for the second time in March. (Click here for maps of the entire trip so far.)

Map 5