The Saaris’ (Sorta) Safe Sojourn – PART 6: Vacillating in Vegas

Our last episode ended shortly after we checked into the Oasis Las Vegas RV Resort. Three weeks have gone by, and here we remain, in a state of suspended animation, vacillating between bursts of activity and days of doing virtually nothing. Here’s an update.

The Resort: The Oasis is one of those giant RV parks, with 901 sites for RVers. Unlike the Rincon Country West Resort back in Tucson, this place does not have any permanent, “park model” mobile homes, so one can’t rent or purchase a place to stay. No RV, no staying here. There are plenty of amenities, including swimming pools and a hot tub, exercise room, 18-hole putting course (which is cute but not really playable due to the long grass), restaurant, and convenience store, but hardly anyone is actually using them due to Covid restrictions and social distancing. There is a nice laundry, restroom, and shower facility about a hundred yards from our site. Though the park is full of people – I’m guessing 80 or 85% of the sites are occupied – we almost never come in proximity to anyone else as we walk or bike around. We have had take out from the restaurant (and even dined in twice with only a couple of other people present) and purchased a few items at the store without feeling anxious, as the few people who go into the resort building have to wear masks and are doing a good job of distancing. Our site is located adjacent to a walled-off RV storage area and there are some nice trees occupied by some birds that have an interesting song and occasionally tap dance on the roof of our RV (great-tailed grackles, as identified by my BirdNET app).

The Venerable RV at our site

In summary, the resort is quite nice, BUT it’s also rather boring. Unlike the Rincon Resort in Tucson, there is no access to hiking/biking trails, and the surroundings have little to offer in terms of scenic value. On the other hand, there are some very interesting things to do if one is willing to drive a bit. Fortunately, we have a car. As I mentioned in the last installment, we rented a car when we got to Las Vegas, and we still do have a car parked at our site. Below, I describe some of the places we have travelled to.

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area: This is a fabulous area about 18 miles northwest of the RV resort, operated by the federal Bureau of Land Management. Access is limited by a timed entry reservation system – on the BLM website one selects a desired entry time and pays an entry fee. (Lucky for us, my Lifetime Senior Pass gets us in for free!) Once inside the entry gate, there is a 13-mile scenic loop drive that winds among the many overlooks and trailheads. Pat and I drove around the loop on two separate visits, and we also hiked on the Visitor Center, Calico, Petroglyph Wall, and Lost Creek trails (see map below).

Map of Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
View from Calico 1 Parking Area
Petroglyph Wall
View from Lost Creek Trail
Prehistoric creature at Red Rock Canyon?

Valley of Fire State Park: This is another beautiful place to visit, located about 60 miles northeast of the RV resort. The name is derived from the red sandstone formations formed 150 million years ago. Complex fault movements, uplifting, and subsequent erosion created a myriad of fascinating and beautiful landscape features. We have visited just once so far, on a Saturday when the park was very busy. We only took a few short walks, feeling uncomfortable hiking among the multitudes, but we intend to return on a less busy weekday for a longer visit.

Map of Valley of Fire State Park
Arch Rock at Velley of Fire State Park
Sandstone Formations at Valley of Fire

There are a number of access roads and hiking trails as shown on the map above. As we drove along the White Domes road just past the visitor center, we were greeted by one of the park’s natives – a bighorn sheep dashed across the road ahead of the car in front of us and leaped up onto a rock shelf.

Bighorn sheep scaling the roadside cliff
I wish I had his balance …

Golf Courses (Naturally): Of course, I have had to go golfing once or twice (or more). There are many, many courses nearby, but to date I have only visited three of them. The first place was called Painted Desert Golf Club. It has a nice variety of hole layouts in a desert landscape, surrounded by mountains, and the fairways and greens are quite nice, enticing me to return three more times. However, the sand traps have so far bedeviled me – just a thin layer of sand on top of hard dirt. During my last round, I think I finally figured out how to play a shot from a trap. My four scores have varied by nine strokes – two at the high end of “not-too-bad,” one “pretty good,” and one “pretty darned good.” I should mention that my scores now are in the same range as my better days some 25 years ago, before rotator cuff surgery and before waking up one day as an old man, but there are two major differences now. First, I play from the senior tees, and second, I’m not quite such a rules Nazi any more, allowing for some conceded putts and other things that would have tortured my soul back then. But, hey, life goes on!

Fourth Hole at Painted Desert Golf Club
Eighteenth hole at Painted Desert Golf Club

I’ve also played twice at Los Prados Country Club, located within the gated housing community of Los Prados. (Despite the potential for snobbery, they welcomed me in my blue jeans, so all was copacetic. In fact, I haven’t had to done the fancy golf pants I bought two years ago in Palm Springs anywhere on this winter’s sojourn. Life is good!) This course is only a par 70 and most of the holes are pretty short, so I played from the regular men’s tees. My first round was a “pretty darned good” one, but the second was a mere “almost awful,” a full eleven shots worse, primarily due to a persistent duck hook off the tees. This course is also pretty and in quite nice condition, so I’ll probably go back again to try to replicate that first effort. The final course I’ve tried is called Wildhorse Golf Club. It has lots of metal sculptures of horses scattered about, and the tee markers are shaped like horseshoes. Very cute. But the condition was not as good as the other two, including piles of goose excrement on many of the greens. I still had that severe duck hook, and no tolerable quantity of overlooked rules could save me from an “awful.” I don’t expect to be back at Wildhorse again. Unless I decide to prove that I can do better …

Other Activities: We’ve also done a fair amount of gadding about by car for shopping trips and such. Pat got new glasses to replace the broken ones from White Tank Regional Park, and we’ve picked up a few things at Target and Walmart. Also, we did add something to our traveling retinue that you can get a glimpse of in the photo below – I’ll have more on that in future episodes.

Regular readers: Do you see something new?

That covers our activities through today. When we arrived here in Vegas, we had planned to leave on January 27 to head for San Diego, where we had booked a two week stay. However, California subsequently entered Covid hell, so we cancelled that reservation. Currently, our departure date is somewhat open – between January 28 and February 14. So here we are, vacillating in Vegas about where to go next. Unfortunately, the weather in much of the southwest has gotten rather cool and the coming weeks’ forecasts are for rain and cold, so no place seems particularly enticing right now. Who knows when or where we will be when I write the next installment? Perhaps only The Shadow knows. The good news is that we are still feeling safe and well.

Stay tuned as the adventure continues …

The Saaris’ (Sorta) Safe Sojourn – PART 5: On the Road Again

Our last episode found us preparing to depart from the Rincon Country West RV Resort in Tucson, AZ, after a month-long stay. Here’s an update on our activities over the past several weeks.

Dec 7-9 (Monday – Wednesday): Our first stop after leaving the RV park was the local (Tucson) Mercedes Sprinter service center. (Earlier, during our travel from New Mexico to Arizona, we were getting hot and cranky because the air conditioning in the Sprinter wasn’t working, and we vowed to get it fixed once we finished our long stay in Tucson. The problem had actually surfaced back in the summer in Minnesota, but by the time we left for the big Sojourn I had forgotten about it.) The problem was fixed in a couple of hours– it turned out that varmints back in Minnesota had eaten into the wiring on the switch that opened a valve in the air conditioner system. Happy as clams in the now cool cab of the Sprinter, we headed off to the Catalina State Park just northwest of Tucson.

The state park was beautiful, nestled at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains, home to thousands of Saguaro cacti and other desert plants and supposedly over 150 species of birds. We didn’t see that many, but some friendly roadrunners visited our campsite, and a northern cardinal and some Gila woodpeckers frequented in the trees nearby. We biked around on the roads and hiked several of the excellent trails. The campsites were nicely spaced for easy social distancing, the scenery was gorgeous, and our site was only a hundred yards from an excellent restroom and shower facility. We would gladly go back to this park again.

Our site at Catalina State Park
Friendly visitor at the Catalina site
View from the Canyon Loop hiking trail
Hiking and biking at Catalina State Park

Dec 10-13 (Thursday – Sunday): Our next stop was the White Tank Mountain Regional Park in Waddell, AZ, just northwest of Phoenix. This was another beautiful desert park, located not surprisingly amid the White Tank Mountains. Our experience here was very similar to the Catalina State Park – excellent biking and hiking opportunities, beautiful scenery, well-spaced campsites, nearby restroom and shower facility. Among the many desert plants were huge swaths of Teddy Bear cholla – I saw more of them at this park than in all the other places we visited back in 2018-2019 combined. And they are just so cute! Again, we’d be very happy to visit this park again.

Our site at White Tank Mountain Regional Park
Teddy Bear Cholla at White Tank Mountain Regional Park
Hiking and biking at White Tank
Sunset at White Tank

One unfortunate incident did occur at White Tank, however. Pat was hiking by herself on Saturday, while I was tooling around on her new bike. She reportedly was gawking at a flock of birds that flew up as she walked by, when suddenly a rock leaped out in front of her. She tripped and fell, breaking her glasses and causing some painful injuries to her chest, legs, and especially her right hand. Later, the bruises were quite noticeable, though I think her bruised ego may have been worse. Luckily, nothing was broken, but the hand injury has continued to be an irritant.

Dec 14-17 (Monday – Thursday): Our next stop was the Lake Havasu State Park in Lake Havasu City, AZ. Lake Havasu is a large reservoir, essentially a 26-mile long swelling of the Colorado River that was created by construction of the Parker Dam (completed in 1938). We visited Lake Havasu City during our Excellent Adventure back in 2018, though that time we stayed at the Campbell Cove RV Resort located about a quarter mile from the State Park. Once again, we found the state park to be excellent – in almost all aspects. Our campsite was only a hundred yards from the shores of Lake Havasu. A lovely hiking trail, aptly named the Sunset Trail, wound for the most part along the edge of the Lake, but also jogged inland and passed mere steps from our site. The trail also passed by a nice desert garden featuring all sorts of cacti, trees, and other desert plants. We were nicely isolated from the other campers, yet the roads and parking areas for boaters allowed for many miles of biking just in the park itself (and all the huge parking lots were completely empty, presumably because the boating season is at a lull during December). So, what was the one aspect that failed to impress? The restroom and shower building, though only a few hundred yards away, felt like something at an army boot camp. Yuck!

Pat wasn’t able to ride her new e-bike much due to the injured hand, which was very sad for her. However, that left the bike available for me! I made great use of it, tooling around the park itself as well as out and about throughout Lake Havasu City. One day, I went to the Post Office, then across the world-famous London Bridge (yes, the real London Bridge, moved brick by brick from London, England, back in the 1960s) to a peninsula in Lake Havasu, through the London Bridge shopping district, and back to the camper. The trip covered more than ten miles, and I hardly worked up a sweat with the super cool e-bike. With the pedal-assisted bike, it still felt like good exercise, though, not like the totally motorized bikes many people are now using.

Our site at Lake Havasu State Park
The Sunset Trail at Lake Havasu State Park
Sunset from the Sunset Trail
Desert Garden at Lake Havasu State Park

Our main complaint about our stay here (aside from the crappy restroom and shower facility) was with the people in Lake Havasu City, not in the State Park itself. When I rode through the shopping area, there were far fewer people than we saw back in 2018, but none of them wore masks. When I walked to a mini mart near the State Park looking for milk, there was a sign saying masks were optional. I almost didn’t go in, but there was no one else in the store except the masked cashier. When I went to another mini mart a day later, I made sure the sign said masks were required, but as I waited in line, both people ahead of me at the registers were maskless. I hung way back until they left, then quickly paid and got out of there. When Pat and I went to the grocery store on our way out of town, 10 or 15 people were strutting around without masks. (In all fairness I must add that most people were wearing them and cutting those idiots a wide swath.) By Friday, we couldn’t wait to get out of town. What is the matter with these anti-mask people? Not to stereotype, but I’ll bet Trump carried Lake Havasu City in a landslide, at least until Hugo Chavez changed all the votes with his Dominion algorithm. [OK, Dave, take a deep breath …] We won’t go back there until the pandemic is long over.

Dec 18 (Friday): From Lake Havasu City, we turned back south for our next, nearby, destination stopping along the way to visit the Bill Williams River National Wildlife Sanctuary. This very cool place is located on the Colorado River just upstream of the Parker Dam, where the Bill Williams River enters the Colorado. The Bill Williams River marks the transition between the Mohave and Sonoran Deserts. The Refuge contains many cottonwood and willow trees, “the largest remaining block of this type of riparian forest in the Colorado River system,” according to a plaque I saw. There are all sorts of birds, many different fish species, and beautiful views of Lake Havasu and the surrounding mountains. We spent an hour walking around before having lunch in the RV and heading off again. This hidden gem was absolutely worth a visit.

Bill Williams River National Wildlife Sanctuary
Bill Williams River National Wildlife Sanctuary

Dec 18-21 (Friday – Sunday): Our next stop was the Pirate’s Den RV Resort in Parker, AZ, our first repeat lodging site from the Excellent Adventure in 2018-2019. Since I reported on it back then, I won’t spend much time describing this goofy, pirate-themed RV park. There was one and only one reason we came here – the Emerald Canyon Golf Course across the road. I fell in love with the course on that earlier visit and couldn’t bear the thought of driving past without playing there again. (I got a little mixed up about its location relative to Lake Havasu City when making reservations. It would have made more sense to stop here beforehand rather than doubling back. Had we done that, however, we might have missed out on the Wildlife Sanctuary, so that made the mix-up worthwhile.) I lugged my golf clubs the half-mile over to the course on both Saturday and Sunday and thoroughly enjoyed my two rounds. I was nervous when checking in because I was the only person in the clubhouse wearing a mask, but I got in and out in a minute or two. (Again, what’s with these Colorado River Arizona people?) I lost five balls (two in nearly the exact same spot in a water hazard on the 12th hole each day), but I also made three birdies and had enough good shots to call it an overwhelming success. On Saturday evening, we had a nice dinner at the Black Pearl Restaurant at the RV park (socially distanced, outdoors, attended by a masked server). As we drove away on Monday, I was glowing from the golf memories and Pat was still wondering why on earth we had to go back to the stupid place.

Emerald Canyon Golf Course (Ninth Tee)
Emerald Canyon Golf Course (Sixteenth Tee)

Dec 21-27 (Monday – Sunday): Our next stop was at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, also a duplicate from our Excellent Adventure in 2018 and previously documented. We spent two nights at the Lake Mead RV Village, run by a private contractor, with electric, water, and sewer hookups, in a spot two down from the one we stayed in before. Then we moved to the Boulder Beach Campground next door, run by the National Park Service, with no hookups. This gave us a chance to run our generator for an hour or so each day, just to keep it in tune. (We hadn’t even turned it on for over a year, so Pat wondered if it would even run. I assured her it was no problem as I pushed the switch, with my fingers secretly crossed.) While there, we celebrated Christmas quietly, though we did have a zoom with the family back home, which was most enjoyable.

The Recreation Area has terrific bike trails, and the roads are also good for biking, so we made good use of the bikes. On Tuesday we both rode – mostly downhill – to the marina on Lake Mead (I was looking for pop, my main addiction). On the way back – mostly uphill – I had to get off and walk while panting like a 70-year-old man who’s just tried to ride up a hill that’s too steep for him, while wistfully watching Pat pedal away on her e-bike. (Oh, right, I am a 70-year-old man who had just tried to ride up a hill that’s too steep for him.) Unfortunately (or fortunately) her hand couldn’t take the strain for more biking afterward, so I was forced to use her bike every day after that. (Heh, heh.)

Our site at Lake Mead National Recreation Area Boulder Beach Campground
Lake Mead as viewed from our site

I will mention one slightly amusing incident that occurred on Tuesday. In the morning, while walking over to the restroom at the RV Village, I noticed a hot young babe outside her RV pumping iron. I tried not to ogle too hard, but I thought she looked pretty darned good. Back at the RV, I reported this news to Pat. Later, when Pat returned from her own expedition to the restroom, she mentioned that she had seen the woman as well, and noted that she appeared to be in her fifties. My retort was twofold: first I hadn’t been wearing my glasses, and second, that is young as far as I’m concerned.

Dec 28 — Jan 2 (Monday – Saturday): Our next stop and current location is the Oasis Las Vegas RV Resort. That’s right – Vegas, baby!!! Though we aren’t going to do any of the usual Vegas stuff. We’ll just stay quietly in the RV except when walking, riding bikes, and shopping for necessities. We are booked here for a month and have rented a car for the duration to facilitate shopping and a few touristy things, and golfing, of course. But speaking of biking …

When Pat got the e-bike back in Tucson, she was very happy with it, and I was covetous. She did feel that it was a tad too large, though, so she suggested that she get a smaller size and deed the original one to me. I heartily agreed. But we soon learned that the bike she bought (from REI) was no longer available. She identified some other models that were around the same, light weight, but no one in the Tucson area had any or knew when they might get any, due to the very hot bicycle market. So, I have been pouting and stealing hers ever since. Pat’s sore hand proved to be a plus for me, though I’ve tried not to engage in too much schadenfreude. But the good news is that once we got to Las Vegas, she found a nearby shop that had exactly one bike, of the model she wanted most, in stock. On Tuesday, we zipped over there and bought it (after which we also went to Warby Parker and ordered replacement glasses). The size of the new bike is much better for her, and the other one is now mine, all mine! And both of the e-bikes are light enough for our existing bike rack. All is good!

Our new E-bikes — light as feathers

On Thursday, I brought my old non-electric bike back to the shop and donated it. As long as I was out donating bikes, I figured I ought to play golf. I could give an enthusiastic report on the golfing, but this post has gone on long enough, so I’ll skip that until the next time.

That covers our activities through today. Here is a map showing our recent travels and one that shows the entire trip so far.

Recent travels
The Sojourn so far

I can happily report that we are still feeling safe and well. Stay tuned as the adventure continues …

The Saaris’ (Sorta) Safe Sojourn – PART 4: Tarrying in Tucson

Our last episode found us enjoying warm, sunny weather in Tucson, AZ, at the Rincon Country West RV Resort. Believe it or not, we’re still parked in the very same spot – the RV hasn’t moved an inch for over a month! But that hasn’t kept us from doing all sorts of stuff, using a rental car to gad about the Tucson area for sightseeing, grocery shopping, and a certain recreational activity to which I am somewhat addicted. Here’s an update on our activities over the past three weeks.

Nov 16 – Dec 6: I’ll describe some of the things that we’ve been up to without trying to stick to a chronological report. Hopefully that will be more interesting for readers, though I’m also doing it in part because I can’t remember precisely when we did these various things (such is the challenge of a septuagenarian life).

First, I should say something about the RV park itself. There are a total of some 1100 spaces, about half for RVs and half for permanent structures that look to provide about 400 square feet of living space. The grounds are nicely maintained with hundreds of palm trees, tall, sculpted evergreens, and many cactus varieties. Nicely manicured grass areas surround the office, pool, and common use buildings. The roads are paved and provide ready access to any and all RV and “park model” sites on the property. Our site is a few hundred yards away from a common building with clean and well-maintained laundry, restroom, and shower facilities. It’s a bit farther to the trash and recycling bins, but that provides some additional daily exercise. During normal times, we would have access to pickleball and tennis courts, a putting green and practice golf net, outdoor and indoor exercise equipment, and a host of community programs. But these are not normal times, so essentially no one is using any of these things. Almost all the residents are keeping to themselves and practicing social distancing when outdoors, save a few who gather in small groups to chat at various times. Masks are required inside the office, laundry, and other buildings open to the public. Many people are even wearing masks when walking around outdoors. When it isn’t too windy, we sit outdoors at our site and read or do puzzles before sunset – which is often quite glorious. Otherwise, most of our time at the park is spent inside the RV, safely sealed away from the other residents. In short, we feel very safe from Covid here.

Sunset at Rincon Country West RV Resort

One final note about the RV park. There is one special outdoor attraction still operating – the daily running of the Rincon West (RCW) model railroad shown in the video below. This amazing display is maintained and operated by some dedicated park residents.

The RCW Model Railroad

As previously reported, the bike trails here are excellent, and one or both of us have been out riding nearly every day. These forays have mostly been in the range of five to ten-mile excursions, but we did make a long (for us) nineteen-mile (round trip) journey to view the 18th green at the Silverbell Golf Course, which we had discovered on our previous stop in Tucson in November 2018. We rode past several of the same locations from that earlier trip, including the Sentinel RV Park (where we stayed for 2 nights), Pat’s Chili Dogs drive-in (unfortunately closed due to Covid), and the Mariscos Chihuahua Mexican Seafood Restaurant. As I recalled the mouth-watering Camarones Rellenos – shrimp stuffed with cheese and wrapped in bacon – I decided I needed to eat them again before leaving Tucson. We eventually had takeout meals from Mariscos three times. Although they are open for limited in-person dining, we are not yet ready to eat indoors, whether or not a restaurant is taking appropriate Covid-era precautions. And yes, I had the Rellenos all three times, which probably won’t surprise anyone who knows me. Yummy!

One day, we drove to yet another cavern, this one called Colossal Cave, in Vail, AZ, 15 miles southeast of Tucson. This is a dry cavern, and our guide told us the formations have not grown since the last ice age some thousands of years ago. Unfortunately, many of the stalagmites and stalactites were broken off by souvenir hunters in the early 1900s before any steps were taken to preserve the cave, but there are still many very interesting ones left. This cave was not as impressive as the Kartchner Caverns I reported on in Part 3, but the visit still made for an enjoyable experience.

The Historic Colossal Cave Park Visitor Center
Formations in the Colossal Cave

We also made two car trips to the Saguaro National Park (SNP). This park is unusual in that it consists of two parts, SNP East and SNP West, separated by about 30 miles. Each part had a nice loop road with multiple pullouts for scenic vistas and hiking trails. The road at the East park was nicer – entirely paved for a smooth ride – but we thought the West park was better despite the rough, unpaved road there. The West park had more, healthier looking Saguaro cacti and other desert plants, and the vistas were just somehow more impressive. The visitor center at the West park was also more modern and had more to offer. If a traveler only has time to visit one or the other, I’d recommend the West park.

Saguaro Cacti at SNP East
“Javelina Rocks” at SNP West
Petroglyph from the Hohokam Era (450-1450 CE) at SNP West
Hiking Trail at SNP West

One Monday, we drove to the Sentinel Peak Park. This park is only about three miles from our RV Resort, within the Tucson city limits, but there is an elevation change of about 500 feet from the base to the summit, so we thought it would be good to drive to the top. However, as luck would have it, cars are not permitted on Mondays. We parked near the bottom and took a rather rough, winding trail for much of the journey up. We did end up walking along the road for the final ascent and back down again, mostly to avoid spraining an ankle or falling on my kiester. The views from the top were impressive, providing an excellent view of the overall Tucson area.

Shelter on top of Sentinel Peak
Sentinel Peak Park

For Thanksgiving, we had two Zoom meetings with family back in Minnesota, in Oregon, and Ontario. In between the Zoom meetings, we shared a meal with our two expat Minnesota friends who live nearby. We had takeout from a local restaurant – turkey, ham, stuffing, yams, and pie for dessert. It felt almost like a real Thanksgiving, though the family visits and excellent company felt more important than the meal.

Moving to another topic: if you thought you could read one of my blog posts without reference to golfing, I must now disappoint you. I came up with the idea that I should try golfing at least twice at every place I played. My theory was that knowledge of the course would always result in an improved score when I played the second time. Since I already played at the Starr Pass Golf Course as reported in the last installment, I made a return visit there. This difficult but gorgeous layout, with holes winding through the desert foothills, has three nines (Coyote, Rattler, and Roadrunner), and my second foray started on the Rattler nine I hadn’t yet played. I did pretty well on the new nine, despite three balls lost in the hazards, so I was pretty optimistic heading for the Roadrunner nine. But I managed to dump three more balls in the junk and ended up with the same 18-hole score as the first time. Over the last several holes, my left knee began complaining severely, so I’ll blame some of my troubles on that. And yes, I will have some cheese with that whine.

I also played twice at the aforementioned Silverbell course. This was my second most favorite Tucson course, after Starr Pass, with nice fairways and not-so-nice roughs and desert areas if you stray too far afield. It is only a par 70, with five par threes and only two par fives, so I would expect to shoot a bit lower score there, which I did. The first time, I drove the ball pretty well but hit into a lot of sand traps and lost two balls in the only water hazard on the course. I also lost one on the last hole because it was too dark, so I invoked the universal “no penalty if you can’t see” rule on that one. For my second round, I started out with two double-bogeys and a triple bogey in the first four holes, dashing all hopes of an improved score. But I fought back valiantly and ended up with exactly the same total score, and only one ball in the water.

View of 18th Green at Silverbell from the adjacent bike path

Then there was the Fred Enke course, not far from Saguaro National Park East, where I shot my lowest Tucson score the first time out. The fairways weren’t quite as nice as Silverbell and some of the holes were a bit confusing the first time around, but I avoided most of the sand traps and only lost two balls in the hazards, so I was quite satisfied with that effort. However, the second time was really bad. I yanked a bunch of drives severely left, resulting in a lost ball and multiple unplayable lies, fanned an approach shot into a hazard to the right of one green, shanked a couple of chip shots, and had two awful three putts. When the dust had settled, I was eight shots higher than the first time. So much for my theory.

17th hole at Fred Enke Golf Course
A friendly Roadrunner at Fred Enke

Finally, I played at El Rio, just a stone’s throw from the Marsico Chihuahua. I didn’t lose a single ball there, but virtually every hole had three or more sand traps surrounding the greens, and I ended up in many, many, of them. Even though I still managed to break 90, I had no desire to go back again. The best part of that round was the quick trip to pick up my post-golf Camarones Rellenos.

Recycled balls from GolfBallsDirect.com, to replenish my dwindling supply

Finally, I have one more topic to cover. If you thought all the golf stuff was bad, this may be even worse. Several weeks back, while we were staying at the John Martin Reservoir State Park in Colorado, Pat showed me a new word game from the New York Times game collection called Spelling Bee. I just so happen to love word games, and I was already wasting a lot of time playing Words with Friends and doing two or three NYT crossword puzzles a day, so naturally I was thrilled to find yet another one to waste time on. Since then, I have reached the final level every day but one. But the real incentive of Spelling Bee is to find every single word in the daily list – if you do that you are awarded “Queen Bee” status. I kept trying for days and days and days without success, until November 28, when this happened:

My one and only Queen Bee!

The lesson I took from that accomplishment? Persistence pays. Or maybe it was just a really easy puzzle that day.

That covers our activities through today. Still so far, so good, feeling safe, though we’re getting itchy to hit the road with the RV again tomorrow. Stay tuned as the adventure continues …

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?