The Saaris’ (Sorta) Safe Sojourn – PART 10: Heading Home

Our last episode ended at the Boot Hill RV Resort in Alamogordo, NM, on April 2. This post picks up the narrative from there.

April 3 – 6 (Saturday – Tuesday): We left the Boot Hill park Saturday morning and travelled to the Santa Rosa Lake State Park near Santa Rosa, NM. The park is situated around a large lake formed by a dam in the Pecos River, constructed by the US Army Corps of Engineers in the early 1980s. There is a nice overlook, also built by the Corps of Engineers, that provides some interesting views of the lake and the surrounding terrain.

Santa Rosa Lake

Our RV site was very nice – well spaced away from the other campers and only a short walk from the restroom facilities. There is a nice hiking trail that leads from the campground to the lakeshore, passing through forests of juniper trees. It seemed to me there were two types of junipers as illustrated below, but I’m not enough of a horticulturist to tell if they are actually different species. (Perhaps brother-in-law Dennis Arthur can tell – we used to call him “Horti Culture” due to his extensive knowledge of all types of flora.) We hiked on various parts of the trail on Monday and Tuesday and thoroughly enjoyed exploring the area.

Our RV Site at Santa Rosa Lake State Park
Santa Rosa State Park Trail Map
Hiking on the Shoreline Trail
Juniper Trees along the Shoreline Trail
Sunset at our RV Site

So what did we do on Sunday, you may wonder? On the drive from Alamogordo, the RV had provided a warning message that it was time to add some DEF (diesel exhaust fluid), so on Sunday we drove the Tesla into the nearby little town of Santa Rosa to buy some. As we were driving to the gas station, my sharp-eyed spouse spied a sign for nothing other than a GOLF COURSE. I kid you not; I had no idea there would be a course in such a dinky burg. So, after we returned to the state park and I poured 2.5 gallons of DEF into the RV, Pat suggested that I ought to go back to town and play golf. She didn’t have to say it twice. When I got to the nine-hole course, not surprisingly called the Santa Rosa Golf Course, I found the small building that passes for a clubhouse completely empty. I stood around in my mask for five or ten minutes wondering what to do, and eventually an elderly gentleman came puttering over in a golf cart and came inside to greet me. In response to my query, he told me I could indeed play 18 holes, but all their motor carts were in use. So, I rented a pull cart – what the Scots and Brits call a “trolley” – and headed for the first tee. The course layout was quite interesting and the tees and greens were pretty nice, but the fairways can only be called a complete disaster. A local rule allows adjusting your lie, but even so it was sometimes hard to find a tuft of grass to play from. But I was undaunted, once again driving the ball beautifully and putting well, but hitting “fairway” shots that were at best indifferent and often just plain stinky. As I was preparing to tee off on number one for my second go-round, the elderly fellow puttered over and told me that someone had returned one motor cart, which I was welcome to use if I so desired. And boy, did my aching feet so desire at that point. The only trick was that I could not drive the cart in the fairways but had to stick to the cart paths and walk out to my ball to hit a shot. Even so, the second circuit was easier to handle, and I even shaved off a few strokes due to improved approach shots.

Second Tee at Santa Rosa Golf Course
Fifth Hole at Santa Rosa Golf Course

April 7 (Wednesday): On Wednesday, we departed New Mexico and drove to the Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Canyon, TX. We visited Palo Duro on our Excellent Adventure back in 2018 and found it so impressive that we really wanted to stop back for another visit. However, we weren’t so sure that going to Texas, where Governor Abbott had just demanded that everyone stop wearing masks and try to infect as many people with Covid as possible, was such a good idea. On the other hand, we knew from our previous visit that the RV sites are well spaced, and the park is located at the bottom of a huge canyon, far from any sizable towns. Also, when we looked at booking a site, we could only get one for one day. In the end, we decided that the risk of visiting was small, so off we went. On the drive to the park, we stopped at a grocery store in the town of Canyon, just southwest of Amarillo. We were prepared to just turn around and leave if the place was filled with maskless Covidiots. But, much to our relief, virtually no one was following the Governor’s reckless order – all the store personnel and all but one or two shoppers were masked and distancing.

But let’s move on to the State Park. Palo Duro Canyon, the second largest canyon in the US, is billed as the “Grand Canyon of Texas.” After checking in at the main gate, there is a spectacular road with multiple hairpin turns and switchbacks that winds down some 800 feet to the canyon floor. Back in 2018, Pat nearly had a heart attack sitting in the passenger seat of the RV, but this time she quite enjoyed the drive in the Tesla. On our previous visit, we stayed at the Hackberry Campground, located about halfway along the north-south road within the canyon. This time, we stayed at the Mesquite Campground at the southernmost end of the canyon, in a wide-open site situated near a dramatic sandstone cliff. The campsite view alone was enough to justify a return to Palo Duro.

RV Site in Mesquite Campground, Palo Duro Canyon State Park
The view from our RV Site

Once we were settled in, we took a long walk along some interesting hiking trails that provided good views of the widely varying terrain and vegetation. We intended to hike about 2 or 3 miles in deference to my tender feet, but the trail maps were so confusing that we ended up circling around on several of the trails trying in vain to get back to our RV site. In the end, we walked about 6 miles, and though my feet weren’t happy, it was an excellent experience.

View from Hiking Trail at Palo Duro Canyon State Park
View from Hiking Trail at Palo Duro Canyon State Park
Hiking Trail at Palo Duro Canyon State Park
Hiking Trail at Palo Duro Canyon State Park
View from Hiking Trail at Palo Duro Canyon State Park
OK, now how do we get back to the RV?

Once I felt sufficiently recovered from the hike, I drove the Tesla back to the canyon rim to get a few snaps from two of the spectacular overlooks, which added another exclamation point to our return visit.

Palo Duro Canyon Overlook at Dusk
Palo Duro Canyon Overlook at Dusk

April 8 – 9 (Thursday – Friday): On Thursday, we motored northwards to the Boiling Springs State Park near Woodward, OK. This is another place we had visited back in 2018, and in fact, I booked the exact same RV site we stayed at the last time. (That’s sort of a Saari thing to do, by the way.)

Our site at Boiling Springs State Park (does it look familiar?)

Boiling Springs is a nice enough park, but the real attraction is – you guessed it – the golf course located just east of the park entrance. On Friday, while Pat tooled around the park on her bike, I played a somewhat frustrating game of golf. The first ten holes may have been the best I have ever played in my life, with excellent drives and approach shots and decent putting. But then I shanked one into a sand trap on hole 11 (from a perfect lie in the fairway), blasted the ball twenty yards over the green, and reverted to form again for the remaining holes. I ended up with a decent score, but what a round it could have been! anyway. I decided to give up the stupid game again, at least until we get back home to Minnesota.

April 10 – 11 (Saturday – Sunday): On Saturday, we continued our string of visits to state parks, this time the Great Salt Plains State Park near Jet, OK. Our site was very nice, located on the bank of the Salt Fork Arkansas River just downstream of a large dam built by the Corps of Engineers in the 1960s for flood control and water storage. The dam formed the 8,690-acre Great Salt Plains Lake, considered a saltwater lake as its salinity is about half that of the world’s oceans. We spent much of our time walking around the campground area and the dam, resulting in quite a few nice photos as shown below.

Our RV site at Great Salt Plains State Park
View from the Dam at Great Salt Plains State Park
Great Salt Plains Lake

We set up our foldable Pico Chairs right on the river bank and enjoyed watching herons, cormorants, pelicans, and hawks as they soared, glided, waded, swam, and otherwise just looked elegant and marvelous. The river was chock full of fish, and the splashing sounds were nearly continuous as they leaped out of the water to catch the presumably tasty morsels flying by. I caught one of them on video as I sat by the river, as you can see below.

Heron wading in the Salt Fork Arkansas River by our RV Site
View of Salt Fork Arkansas River from our RV Site
Fish jumping for a treat in Salt Fork Arkansas River

On Sunday, we drove to the nearby Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge, where we hiked along a nature trail and took a leisurely drive among the marshlands.

Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge Information Board
Trees along the Nature Trail at Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge
Nature Trail at Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge
Marsh in Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge

We were hoping to visit the Great Salt Plains, remnants of an ancient ocean that once covered much of Oklahoma, but we couldn’t actually figure out how to get there. There is also a “crystal dig” area where one can find hourglass-shaped crystals, supposedly unique in the entire world. Maybe we’ll have to come back someday to look for these attractions. We enjoyed our stay, although it was quite windy and very hot (mid-80s) on Sunday afternoon.

April 12 – 13 (Monday – Tuesday): On Monday, we drove to the El Dorado State Park near El Dorado, KS. Did I mention that it was windy at Great Salt Plains? Well, the wind kept up as we drove away, intensifying as we drove, and I felt battered and beaten when we finally arrived at El Dorado, which turned out to be rather disappointing. While there was nothing wrong with the park per se, it had to be the most boring place we’ve stayed during the entire Sojourn. We stayed at the Bemis Creek Campground, about 5 miles from the park headquarters, and we were the only campers staying there. The campground is situated between a nice lake, unsurprisingly called El Dorado Lake, and an occasionally busy highway. There are about 30 RV sites with water and electricity, but other than walking around the two road loops and sitting outside on our foldable Pico Chairs, there is nothing at all to do – no hiking trails, no suitable biking, just nothing. Apparently, the place is big for fishing and hunting, and now is not the season for either of those activities. t was also about 30 degrees colder than it was in Great Salt Plains. Our big activity here? We went to El Dorado for lunch at Burger King (drive-through), bought wine at a liquor store, and stopped for a stroll at the city park on the Willow River. Whoopee!

Our RV Site at the El Dorado State Park, Bemis Creek Campground
El Dorado City Park on Willow River

April 14 – 15 (Wednesday – Thursday):

On Wednesday, we motored off again, this time to the Worlds of Fun Village near Kansas City, MO. With a name like that, how could we go wrong? The RV park gets its name from a giant amusement park, billed as the largest in the Midwest, situated right next door, and the place is probably an absolute zoo when the amusement park is open. Luckily for us, the amusement park is closed until May 22, most likely due to Covid. According to their website, operations were somewhat limited last year and the park closed immediately after Labor Day, apparently earlier than usual. As a result, only about 25% of the 83 RV sites were occupied, leaving us in a very well-spaced site. (None of the 43 cabins at the Village were occupied, presumably due to Covid restrictions.) The Village operators asked several Covid screening questions before allowing us to check-in, masks were required in the office and restroom facilities, and the laundry was open by appointment only for individual campers. So, we felt good that they were taking the pandemic seriously, and we felt very safe staying there. On the other hand, there wasn’t a lot to do other than walk around the Village, which we did a few times. We did drive the Tesla to a nearby RV dealer on Thursday to purchase a new support strut for the RV entry door – because the original one broke off in a fierce gust of wind back at Great Salt Plains.

Our site at Worlds of Fun Village, with amusement park to the north
Our site at Worlds of Fun Village, with downtown Kansas City in background
Some of the unoccupied cabins at Worlds of Fun Village
Dr. Seuss has NOT been cancelled, at least at Worlds of Fun Village

April 16 (Friday): On Friday, we drove to Griff’s Valley View RV Resort in Altoona, IA, just northeast of Des Moines. The total drive was 200 miles, at least 190 of which were on the freeway (I435 and I35). Traffic was light for the most part, though there was a bit of a snarl in Des Moines itself. Griff’s, however, has a very rural feel, and our site was nicely located near a fishing pond and grassy area. A nice building with restrooms, laundry, and recreation room was located just a short walk away. The only problem with the place is that they have no interest in masks or social distancing whatsoever. But we’ve learned how to stay isolated, and we of course wore our masks in the office and restroom facility anyway.

Griff’s felt like rural Iowa rather than suburban Des Moines
Our RV site at Griff’s

The park office is located at a farm and feed store operation known as Griffieon Farms, immediately to the north of the park. My guess is that the owners decided to convert part of their farmland into the RV park to diversify their holdings. Whoever designed the place apparently has a thing for animal statues.

Wild game near the fishing pond …
Maybe this one is that RV owner’s pet?
OK, this one kind of scared me

There was also an excellent bike trail adjacent to the park, and we would have loved to do some biking, but since we were only staying on night it didn’t seem worth the effort to get the bikes off the rack just to put them back on again in an hour or so. Besides, it was a tad chilly for biking. (It’s pretty pathetic that low 50s seems chilly to a pair of hardy Minnesotans, but I guess we’ve gotten soft from spending our winter in warm climates.) I’d have to say this would be a nice place to stay sometime in the post-pandemic future.

The lovely, but unused, bike trail — at least on this visit

April 17 (Saturday): Our original plan was to stay at Griff’s for two nights, but I got an e-mail from the Minnesota Vaccine Team on Tuesday letting me know that I am eligible for a vaccination. (Pat hasn’t gotten the word yet, but hopefully she will soon.) After a half hour of poking away at the computer, I had scheduled a vaccination at the Roy Wilkins Auditorium in St. Paul at 6:10 PM on Saturday. Given this excellent news, we cancelled the second day’s reservation at Griff’s so I could get to St. Paul in time for my appointment. As a result, we drove off Saturday morning toward the Airlake Self Storage facility in Lakeview, MN. We’ve decided to store the RV there for the time being, for several reasons, including that we are not planning a winter RV trip in 2021-22. After unpacking the RV, leaving it behind to rest and recuperate, we departed in the Tesla toward our Minneapolis condo, still feeling safe and well, and looking forward to getting vaccinated.

So, dear readers, that brings us to the end of our (Sorta) Safe Sojourn. Look for one last post shortly, in which I’ll provide a final map and a brief summary of the trip.

The Saaris’ (Sorta) Safe Sojourn – PART 9: Easing Eastward

Our last episode ended at the Leaf Verde RV Resort in Buckeye, AZ, on March 14. In this post, I’ll pick up the narrative from there. First, here is a map covering the locations described in this installment. The numbers are starting to look a bit jumbled as we double back near places we stayed earlier on, so you should just focus on location numbers 25 through 31. As you can see from the map, we are generally easing back toward the east as our Sojourn winds down toward the finish.

Map of Travels since March 15

March 15 – 16 (Monday – Tuesday): After posting PART 8 of the Sojourn, we stayed for two more days at the Leaf Verde Resort (location 25 on the map). The highlight was a visit to the Estrella Mountain Regional Park, located about 15 miles east-southeast of the RV park.

Our movements at Estrella Mountain Regional Park

Pat enjoyed a nice hike along the Toothaker Trail and the Crossover Trail, shown on the map above. Meanwhile, I seemed to be just gadding about in some random manner in a different part of the Regional Park. A closer look at the map explains all, though, as one notices that the Estrella Regional Park includes something called the Tres Rios Golf Course.  Here are some photos we each took that day – Pat’s illustrate the beauty on display from the hiking trails, while mine illustrates a different sort of beauty. I think she had the better of it in terms of healthful activity, but I managed to feed my addiction with a decent game while only losing one ball.

View from the hiking trail at Estrella Mountain Regional Park
View from the hiking trail at Estrella Mountain Regional Park
10th Hole at Tres Rios Golf Course

March 17 – 20 (Wednesday – Saturday): March 17 is not only St. Patrick’s Day, but is also our anniversary. This year was our 42nd. After exchanging “Happy Anniversary” greetings, we motored off to the Ajo Heights RV Resort (location 26 on the map above). The RV park is considerably smaller than the Leaf Verde Park, with about 50 well-spaced sites that blend into the desert landscape. There is even a pretty desert garden in a low-lying area adjacent to the gravel access road leading to our site. We felt very comfortable there, glad to get away from the more hectic surroundings of the previous week.

Our site at Ajo Heights RV Park
Desert Garden at Ajo Heights RV Park

The primary attraction near Ajo is the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (location 27 on the map). We drove down there on both Thursday and Saturday, spending several hours each day. On Thursday, we drove around the Ajo Mountain Loop and hiked the Arch Canyon Trail, and on Saturday we drove along a portion of the Puerto Blanco Drive and hiked a portion of the Red Tanks Tinaja Trail. Both days we encountered stunning desert vistas and a variety of plant life. The most unique feature of the National Monument is, not surprisingly, the Organ Pipe Cactus. This species is particularly well suited to high desert heat, and the National Monument is essentially the only place in the US where they grow. (There is a much larger range for these cacti in Mexico.) There are also a tremendous number of Saguaro cacti, even more than we saw in Saguaro National Park while in Tucson, and they looked much healthier to us.

Map of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
Organ Pipe Cactus and another prickly character
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
Arch Canyon on Ajo Mountain Loop
Arch Canyon Trail at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
View from Arch Canyon Trail
Red Tanks Tinaja Trail at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
Flora in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
Flora and Fauna in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

One interesting thing happened on Thursday as we were hiking back to our car along the Arch Canyon Trail. Two jet airplanes appeared out of nowhere and streaked across the sky at an incredibly low altitude, perhaps 200 or 300 feet. One of them was flying so low it needed to bank sharply to fit between two low mountains as it disappeared from our view. Another thing, almost as exciting, was that as we drove through downtown Ajo on our way back from the Monument, we stumbled across a sign pointing the way to something called the Ajo Golf Course. Naturally, we needed to investigate. It was a little tacky and run down, but not surprisingly I ended up playing 18 holes there on Friday. I scored quite well, and didn’t lose a single ball. Looks like I’ll make it back home with golf balls to spare after all.

9th Hole at Ajo Golf Course

Since we got the Tesla, we have mostly been recharging it at our RV campsites using either the 15-amp exterior receptacle on the RV or the separate 50-amp circuit provided for bigger RVs. Charging with the 120 VAC, 15-amp circuit takes quite a long time, whereas the 240 VAC, 50-amp circuit charges about 6 times faster. However, for some reason, the 50-amp circuit at the Ajo Heights park did not work. So, on Saturday, after visiting Organ Pipe and returning to Ajo, we decided to drive 20 miles further north to Gila Bend, where there is a Tesla Supercharger station. The Supercharger, at 400 VDC, provides hundreds of amps and charges the car more than 10 times faster than a 240 VAC 50-amp circuit. Besides, Superchargers are often located at or near fast food restaurants – in this case Carl’s Jr. Thus, we were able to simultaneously charge the Tesla with healthy, life-sustaining direct current electricity, and our own bodies with unhealthy junk food. What could be better than that?

Our car at the Tesla Supercharger in Gila Bend, AZ

March 21 – 24 (Sunday – Wednesday): Our next stop was the Picacho Peak State Park (location 28) near Benson, AZ. This is another place that we visited during our 2018-2019 Excellent Adventure, and we were pleased to visit there again. We had a spacious site near the restroom building, but the park staff requested that campers not use the shower facilities – the park water supply is very limited due to some sort of water tank issue. We didn’t mind at all, though, because we have taken to showering in our RV to avoid unnecessary contact with potential Covid spreaders. We enjoyed our stay at Picacho Peak, including biking around on the park roads and hiking along the ridgeline of the mountain. On our previous visit, we hiked a trail on the east end of the park. This time, we hiked a trail that starts on the west end, but only went a mile or so and then returned in deference to my aching feet and knees.

Our site at Picacho Peak State Park
Hiking Trail at Picacho Peak State Park
Sunset at Picacho Peak State Park

On Monday, we drove into Tucson to a place called the A1 Mattress Factory, where we ordered a new custom-made mattress for the RV. This was all in accordance with a plan Pat had hatched based on info posted on a Leisure Travel Vans Facebook users’ group. The plan was inspired by the sadly sagging state of the original mattress (in-laws Allen and LeAnne can attest to this), and she just couldn’t stand it anymore. Amazingly, the A1 people were able to buy the materials, make the mattress, and install it in the RV as I drove through Tucson on Thursday on my way to our next destination.

March 25 – 29 (Thursday – Monday): On Thursday, after picking up the new mattress, we drove to the Patagonia Lake State Park (location 29) near Nogales, AZ, another beautiful example of the Arizona Park system. The park entrance road winds through a lovely valley and provides a bird’s eye overlook of Patagonia Lake.

Overlook of Patagonia Lake State Park from entrance road

We again had a site that was well spaced from our neighbors, providing a peaceful feeling even with the campground fully occupied. (Except for the loud partiers in a camping cabin on the hill behind us, but they only stayed one night.)

Our site at Patagonia Lake State Park

We spent our time at the park hiking along the so-called Bird Watching Trail that ran next to Sonoita Creek and walking along the campground roads to look at the lake and the various picnic areas. It was interesting to learn that there are over hundreds of bird species in the park. We saw several of them, and even some very large flightless ones that lolled around, free-range style, in the vicinity of the birding trail.

Lake Patagonia near western end
Sonoita Creek near entrance to Patagonia Lake
Bird Watching Trail along Sonoita Creek
Flightless bird near Bird Watching trail?
View from our site at Patagonia Lake State Park

We did some grocery shopping in Nogales on Friday, and on Monday we drove to Tubac to have lunch with Minnesota expat friends Gordon and Michele. All in all, we enjoyed our stay, with one niggling exception. There was no WiFi and no cellular coverage anywhere in the park. As a result, we found ourselves up early on Saturday and Sunday mornings, something like Marlon Perkins on the old Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom program, driving out of the park, “stalking the elusive cell tower.” We eventually found a spot about ten miles down the highway toward Nogales, near the humorously titled Nogales International Airport (with naught but a dozen single engine prop planes and a pair of twin-engine ones parked on the tarmac), where we got a good enough cell signal to download some books, grab the daily New York Times crossword and Spelling Bee, and play a few Words with Friends games. While we truly did like Patagonia, I was happy to move on to someplace with actual internet access.

March 30 – 31 (Tuesday – Wednesday): On Tuesday, we departed Arizona (in the wake of Governor Ducey’s cancellation of the mask mandate) and drove to the Rockhound State Park (location 30) near Deming, NM. Readers may recall that we stayed at the Wolf RV Park near Deming on our way west. The Rockhound State Park is located about 5 miles southwest of that RV park, so we were quite familiar with the town of Deming. Like most state parks we have visited during our Sojourn, we were very impressed with Rockhound. Our site was very large and well isolated from the other campers, well-landscaped with interesting desert plants, and provided lovely vistas of the nearby Florida mountains and the desert terrain. There was a nice desert garden adjacent to the campground and a hiking trail that wound through the mountain foothills. Visitors were encouraged to collect samples of the rocks and minerals – agates, quartz, Jasper, thunder eggs, geodes – and several hikers carried rock hammers. It reminded me of my mother, who often referred to herself as a rockhound and had her own rock hammer. I’m sure she would have loved the place.

Our site at Rockhound State Park
View from Desert Garden at Rockhound State Park
Thunder Egg Trail at Rockhound State Park
Specimen along the trail at Rockhound State Park
View from Thunder Egg Trail at Rockhound State Park

Did I mention that we were familiar with Deming?  Did that familiarity include the Rio Mimbres Golf Course? Yes, it did, so I was once again on the course on Wednesday afternoon. I drove the ball as well as I ever have, putted lights out, lost zero balls, and would have had a fantastic round except that my approach shots sucked. In a show of solidarity, several friendly fellows came to console me after I played another stinky one on the 7th hole.

These fellas felt sorry for me at Rio Mimbres (notice the aeration cores)

The only negative aspect of our stay at Rockhound was the wind. Each evening, it began to howl so fiercely that I thought the RV might roll over. The constant swaying felt a bit like our trip from Isle Royale in 5-foot waves several years back, and I couldn’t get a decent night’s sleep, even with the new, very comfortable mattress.

April 1 – 2 (Thursday – Friday): On Thursday, we headed for Alamogordo, NM, to stay at the Boot Hill RV Resort. Readers may again recall that we stayed at the Mountain Meadows RV Park on our way west, only about 5 miles from the Boot Hill park, and that we visited the White Sands National Park while there. Our plan was to stop at White Sands again on our way to Boot Hill. However, we again encountered events beyond our control on Highway 70. On the way west, we nearly skidded off the highway in a snowstorm as we passed over the mountains near Las Cruces, as I reported in PART 2 of this series. This time, we sailed smoothly through that mountain pass only to find the entrance to White Sands blocked by a bad traffic accident. I had to stop and wait in the RV for a half hour or so, along with dozens of other cars, as a helicopter flew in to evacuate someone who had presumably been severely injured. I even snapped a photo of the chopper taking off.

Scene of the accident on Highway 70

Traffic was then routed around the crash site on a gravel road adjacent to the highway, so entry to the National Park was impossible. So, we skipped White Sands and drove directly to Boot Hill. It’s a nice enough place; not nearly as nice as the various state parks, but it does have a laundry, so we were able to do a huge load accumulated since we last washed at Leaf Verde. With that chore completed on Thursday, we did go back to White Sands on Friday. This time we were able to drive the Tesla all the way along the unpaved road that was too rough for the RV back in October, and we hiked along a couple of trails that we didn’t get to the last time. Our experience this time was quite different, since there was virtually no wind, in stark contrast to our previous visit. I find White Sands fascinating and unique, so I had to take a bunch of pictures, but I’ll only post a couple since they look a lot like the other ones from PART 2.

Plant life at White Sands
View from the Interdune Boardwalk at White Sands
Aftermath of hiking at White Sands

So here I am, banging away at my computer on Friday night, and that brings us up to date. We are still feeling safe and well, and starting to look forward to getting back home (and getting vaccinated). Stay tuned as the adventure continues …

The Saaris’ (Sorta) Safe Sojourn – PART 8: Ambling Back to Arizona

It’s been nearly four weeks since I posted the last episode of our Sojourn, shortly after leaving the Lake Mead RV Village and heading westward. My apologies for failing to provide a timelier update. To make up for it, this installment will be a bit longer than usual. Here we go with a summary of our experiences since February 15.

Maps: First, here are some maps of the journey so far, the first showing the entire Sojourn and the second zooming in on the more recent travels.

The Sojourn so far
Map showing travels since last blog post

Feb 15 – 27: As reported previously, we scrapped our plans to stay in California during late January and February due to the severe Covid outbreak and reinstatement of travel restrictions there. As the situation began to improve, the state began to ease restrictions, and we started thinking about California again. While we were still unwilling to go near any of the big cities, one idea that seemed plausible was to visit Death Valley National Park, as we had back in 2018. (I must admit that this plan was driven in large part by my desire to play another round of golf at the Furnace Creek Golf Course in the heart of Death Valley.) However, we were unable to find any reservable RV sites at the campground during the period of interest. Moving on to Plan B, we decided to book a two-week stay at the Nevada Treasure RV Resort near Pahrump, NV, from where we could easily take a day trip to Death Valley. So, we packed up the RV, charged up the Tesla, and headed west.

Pahrump is a town of 37,000 located smack dab in the middle of the desert, an hour away from Death Valley and close to absolutely nothing else. When I looked on Google for things to do, the highlights included two wineries (tastings and wine sales cancelled due to Covid), a bunch of casinos, Death Valley tours, firearms training, ATV sales, a couple of museums, and a couple of golf courses. Further digging revealed that there are also legal brothels, but I assure you I made no attempt to track those down (although I did have an amusing mental image of a bevy of lounging, beautiful women clad only in their protective facemasks). The RV Resort, located a few miles west of the town limits, features 204 RV sites in a nicely landscaped, 40,000 square-foot, walled enclosure. The place has a sort of Polynesian theme, with thatched roof huts for the premium sites, waterfalls, tiki torches, palm trees, and assorted statues. There is a large recreational facility and pool, closed due to Covid, a small restaurant and bowling alley that were open for business, and excellent laundry, restroom, and shower facilities. Masks were required in the public areas, but the restaurant customers and some laundry users didn’t seem to care about that detail. Many of the other RVers spent hours congregating and chatting in close proximity, but in true hermit fashion we kept our distance and avoided any contact with the maskless. While the Resort was nice enough, there was basically nothing to do there except walk around while avoiding the other people. There were no hiking or biking trails, and we didn’t even take the bikes off the bike rack. We did get take-out from the restaurant twice – I was the only person in there other than the server wearing a mask, and I kept my distance from the diners while waiting for the food. As a result of the overall atmosphere, we spent a lot more time cocooning inside the RV than being out and about.

Our Site at Nevada Treasure RV Resort in Pahrump, NV
Typical Landscaping at Nevada Treasure
View Looking North at Nevada Treasure

Of course, I had to try out one of the golf courses on our first Friday in Pahrump, called the Lakeview Executive Golf Course. I’m not exactly sure which lake was supposed to be in view, though there were several small ponds scattered throughout the course. It was indeed an executive layout, with five par fours and thirteen par threes for a total par of 59. It was rated as a very easy course, but I felt it was a good challenge, with plenty of trouble to be had on almost all of the holes. I played probably my best round in recent memory, hitting excellent drives on all of the long holes and quite a few good iron shots on the short ones. Putting was a bit of a challenge since the green surfaces resembled fur coats, but I did manage to bang in a few and even made a birdie on one hole. I returned to the RV and booked a round at the Furnace Creek course at Death Valley for the coming Monday, feeling psyched about the epic round to come.

Lakeview Executive Golf Course, Pahrump, NV

On Monday, February 22, we drove the Tesla to Death Valley, where Pat dropped me at the Golf Course and went off to explore the park. I started off poorly with a topped drive on the first hole, then recovered with a few good shots on the next two holes, then spiraled into the toilet for the remainder of the round. While it was enjoyable to play the course once again after my stinky effort there in 2018, I actually played even worse this time out, in stark contrast to my sterling effort at Lakeview three days previously. (Golf is such a stupid and frustrating game.) Pat had a better day than I did, driving around the National Park and enjoying the beautiful scenery.

Site of the Furnace Creek Debacle
18th Hole at Furnace Creek Golf Course
View of Artists Drive, Death Valley National Park

After briefly giving up the game of golf following the disaster at Furnace Creek, I was back at the Lakeview course again on Wednesday, and once again on Saturday. Both rounds were good, with only two bad holes on Wednesday and one bad hole on Saturday. The last round would have been the best of all three at Lakeview, except that the greens had gotten so long and slow that I was unable to get the ball to the hole from any distance over about three feet. All in all, though, the Lakeview rounds were a good salve for the Furnace Creek wounds – I only lost one ball, made two birdies, and scored in the 60s all three times. In retrospect, I guess it must be a very easy course.

Feb 28 – March 3 (Sunday – Wednesday): We left the Nevada Treasure RV Resort on Sunday, February 28. I muttered “Harumph to Pahrump” as I drove off in the RV, heading south to the hamlet of Cal-Nev-Ari, where Nevada, California, and Arizona meet. I stopped for lunch in the parking lot of the Post Office before heading east to Golden Valley, AZ. Pat took the Tesla on a different route, back into Henderson, NV, to pick up some items at REI, then south into Arizona and back west to meet me at the Tradewinds RV Park in Golden Valley. The Tradewinds is a no-frills, all gravel park with 113 RV sites. The roads are demarcated by small trees and a few signs, and old ranch implements are scattered about as landmarks. There is one building with laundry and restroom facilities – the showers are very nice, but you have to go through the modest-sized laundry to get to them. With such limited facilities for the entire park, it was hard not to run into people in the laundry, and – you guessed it – no masks. As a result, we took to peering in the window to make sure no one was in there before entering the building. Once again, there wasn’t much to do at the park itself – the bikes stayed on the rack for another three days during our stay.

The nearest grocery stores were in Kingman, about 10 miles to the east. We went shopping there on Monday and once again encountered a number of people ignoring the posted requirement for mask wearing. In particular, one large maskless family was spread out throughout the store, bickering and scowling as they selected their items. We managed to stay away from them, though it required a bit of dodging and weaving, and I left the store feeling very angry about their lack of concern for the health and safety of everyone else in the store. As I thought about it later, I began to feel sorry for them – their lives seemed fueled by anger, with no room for the joy of living. Perhaps they simply have nothing to look forward to in life, and defying the mask requirement gives them some sort of perverse sense of control. I only wish they could find some other less destructive way to act out.

On the plus side, we saw a nice-looking golf course near the grocery store, so I promptly booked a round there for Tuesday. It was called Cerbat Cliffs Golf Course and proved to be a challenging and enjoyable layout. My round was quite decent, with one birdie and only one lost ball – almost as good as the Lakeview efforts and worlds better than the Furnace Creek debacle – so it felt as though I was back on track.

16th Hole at Cerbat Cliffs Golf Course, Kingman AZ

On Wednesday, we drove west, across the Colorado River again into Nevada, to visit an area called Pyramid Canyon. Within the canyon, just north of Laughlin, NV, the Davis Dam spans the river to form Lake Mohave. This dam was built in 1951 to re-regulate water released from the Hoover Dam and to facilitate delivery of water to Mexico. We certainly have seen a lot of Colorado River dams on this trip – it seems that the river supplies water to the entire southwestern US before trickling into Mexico, while providing a fair amount of hydroelectric power along the way. Gotta love those engineers! We hiked around the area for a couple of hours before heading back to the Tradewinds for the evening.

Davis Dam and Lake Mohave

March 4 – 6 (Thursday – Saturday): Our next stop was the Point of Rocks RV Campground in Prescott, AZ. This place was unique and very cool – built on extremely hilly terrain with 96 RV sites situated around some fascinating rock formations called the Majestic Granite Dells. Biking didn’t work here, either, so the bikes stayed put. However, there were excellent hiking trails to the nearby Watson Lake Park, so we could hike to our hearts’ contents without having to drive anywhere. The Watson Lake Park is gorgeous, its blue water contrasting beautifully with the Granite Dells. I will mention, though, that my heart’s content did not translate into my feet’s content, or my knees’ content – I felt like a very old man after an hour’s hike on the rough trails.

Point of Rocks RV Campground, Prescott, AZ
Watson Lake Park, Prescott, AZ
Watson Lake Park, Prescott, AZ
The Old Man and the Tree (with apologies to Papa Hemingway)

But that didn’t stop me from trying another round of golf. The StoneRidge Golf Course was only a stone’s throw away (actually about 10 miles), so I went out there for a round on Tuesday. This one was truly a mixed bag. For the most part, I hit the ball quite well, even making one birdie. However, I lost about eight balls. Most of those were actually pretty good shots, but in retrospect I didn’t hit them where I should have been aiming. The course was just too bleeping hard for me. Also, I couldn’t make any putts. I didn’t putt badly, but the breaks were subtle and unreadable. So, while I shot the worst score yet this trip, primarily from all those lost ball penalties, I didn’t feel all that bad about how I played. Regular readers will recall that I purchased two dozen Titleist golf balls back in November in Tucson. I counted my arsenal after the StoneRidge round, and the Titleists are essentially ALL GONE. I’m now left with only nine balls that I had before buying the ones in Tucson. Will they last until I get back to Minneapolis???

StoneRidge Golf Course (Where the heck are you supposed to hit the ball?)

March 7 – 9 (Sunday – Tuesday): Sunday morning we left Point of Rocks and headed for Cottonwood AZ, and our next destination, with the charming name of Dead Horse Ranch State Park. The state park is only about 40 miles from the Point of Rocks by the shortest route, which takes one on a winding road over Woodchute Mountain, with more switchbacks than a Finnish sauna. The elevation in Prescott is 5367 feet, and the elevation in Cottonwood is 3314 ft, but the road reaches an elevation of some 6500 feet near the summit. Pat elected to drive the Tesla on an easier route, south to I17, through a pass between mountains, then north to Cottonwood, which is 20 miles longer but only adds 4 minutes according to Google maps. After some debate about which route to follow, I decided to take the RV over the mountain, expecting the scenery to be more impressive. And was it ever! I must be getting pretty good at driving the RV by now, because I felt very much at ease navigating the multiple hairpin turns while trying not to gawk too much at the views. There was even a fair amount of snow on the mountainside at the high elevation. I sorely missed having my copilot along to snap a photo or two and vowed to come back with the Tesla to get some shots before leaving Cottonwood.

Dead Horse Ranch State Park is another excellent specimen in the Arizona State Park system. Our site on the Red Tail Hawk loop was well spaced away from other campsites, with a scenic view of the distant mountains, and the restroom and shower building was only a short walk away. There were many excellent hiking trails accessible directly from the campground, and the roads were smooth and safe, prompting me to finally get the bikes off the rack again after more than three weeks. It felt great to be tooling around, exploring the park’s three lagoons, multiple picnic areas, and the other campground loops. We also hiked the Mesa Trail which provided some scenic views of Woodchute Mountain and the old mining town of Jerome, which I had driven through on the way from Prescott.

Map of Dead Horse Ranch State Park, Cottonwood, AZ
View from our RV Site at Dead Horse Ranch
View from the Mesa Trail at Dead Horse Ranch
Lagoon at Dead Horse Ranch

On Tuesday we did take that trip up the mountain and back, and the drive in the Tesla was considerably more relaxing than my earlier trek in the RV. We would have liked to stop and explore Jerome, which has become an art colony and tourist hotspot with its winding main street and picturesque shops, but there were too many people milling about. To make up for not visiting Jerome, we stopped at a Sonic Drive-In for burgers in Cottonwood on our way back to the State Park, which was fun.

Overlook on Mountain Highway West of Jerome, AZ

March 10 – 14 (Wednesday – Today): We departed from Dead Horse Ranch on Wednesday morning and drove to the Leaf Verde RV Resort in Buckeye, AZ, just west of Phoenix, where we will be staying until next Wednesday morning. The drive was a piece of cake compared with the last RV jaunt over the mountain, following freeways and divided highways essentially all the way. Regular readers with especially good memories may recall that we stayed at this same RV Resort in late November and early December of 2018, on our Excellent Adventure. Since this post is nearing Epic proportions, I won’t describe it again.

On Thursday, we drove a short way to the Skyline Regional Park, which we also visited the last time, and went on a long hike. At least we didn’t take the same trail (Turnbuckle), though perhaps we should have. This time we took the Mountain Wash trail to the Lost Creek trail to the Quartz Mine trail (see map), which involved a tremendous elevation change, multiple switchbacks, and rough walking over the rocky path. The whole loop turned out to be 4.5 miles, and my feet and knees were so sore as we neared the finish that I had to take a shortcut to the road while Pat went back to the trailhead to get the Tesla. What a wimp!

Map of Trails at Skyline Regional Park, Buckeye, AZ
View from Quartz Mine Trail at Skyline Regional Park

After that, we drove to Ciao Grazie in Verrado, the excellent pizza restaurant we discovered back in 2018. We were able to sit outdoors, well away from any other diners, drooling over a Pizza al Salmone – a pizza with smoked salmon, caramelized mushrooms, and capers. It may sound a bit weird, but it was absolutely delicious!

Unfortunately, it started to rain Thursday evening and has been raining lightly on and off ever since. As a result, we haven’t gone on any exhausting hikes again – I’m just sitting around like a bum writing this blog post. (On second thought, maybe that’s not so unfortunate.)

UPDATE: The sun is shining brightly this morning (Sunday), so we’ll have to get back to outdoor activities.

Now, I just have a couple more paragraphs before I sign off.

The new Tesla: In the previous post, I promised to report further on the Tesla in future episodes. Here is a quick summary. First of all, we absolutely love it. We were both comfortable with operation within just a few minutes, but we are still discovering neat little features as we use it more. It’s super easy and smooth to drive and has all the safety features an old fart like me needs to feel at ease behind the wheel. And when you need it, such as merging onto a freeway, the acceleration is unbelievable – 0 to 60 mph in just over 4 seconds.

The Model Y that we purchased has the so-called “extended range,” which supposedly provides 320 miles of driving on a single charge. So far, we have driven 2,181 miles, but only up to 188 miles without charging. On that occasion, the car had only been charged to 90% of full capacity, and it still had another 50 miles or so left in the “tank.” I’m keeping detailed records of our charging sessions, and I have concluded that it won’t really get 320 miles on a single charge. The actual range varies quite a bit depending on many factors, such as elevation changes, speed, temperature, etc. It seems to go about 90% as far as the theoretical range if we drive continuously after a charge, and about 80% if we drive shorter distances over several days. So, the maximum range is probably about 290 miles on a single charge. It might not be as much in Minnesota in January, though.

OK, that’s enough for this overly long post. We are still feeling safe and well. Stay tuned as the adventure continues …

The Saaris’ (Sorta) Safe Sojourn – PART 7: Mellower at Lake Mead

Our last episode ended at the Oasis Las Vegas RV Resort, where we were vacillating about where to go next. We finally made a decision – we took a short hop back to the Lake Mead RV Village, where we had stayed previously during our 2018-19 Adventure and also on this Sojourn. In fact, we were staying at Lake Mead right before we went to the Oasis Las Vegas resort. The unimaginative decision to go back there was essentially a punt – we just couldn’t decide on a new place to go, so we went back to a nearby place we’ve enjoyed in the past. We ended up staying at Lake Mead from January 29 until February 15. While there, we did some hiking and biking on the excellent trails in the National Recreation Area, took another drive to the Valley of Fire State Park, and drove around enjoying various scenic spots along the lake. I also played golf a couple of times a week, just because that’s what I do. While there, our angst about what to do next dissipated, and once in a mellower mood we were able to lay out a plan for subsequent travel through March. Below, I’ll briefly summarize our stay at Lake Mead, and I’ll also answer the question I posed for regular readers last time.

The RV Village: The Lake Mead RV Village is a campground operated by a federal contractor. There are 119 RV sites available, all with power, water, sewer, and cable TV hookups as well as free Wi-Fi. There are also perhaps a couple hundred permanently sited mobile homes that are privately owned. Most of those are located in the surrounding area and do not directly abut the RV sites, but more on that later.

For the first 12 nights, we stayed at one of the so-called Lake View sites, which in fact do provide very nice views of Lake Mead and have large, level concrete pads for parking RV’s. We had to move to a different site for the last five days because the Lake View sites were all booked, and we ended up right next to the site we stayed at back in December. Since our 2018 visit, the laundry facilities have been upgraded with new machines, which interestingly don’t take coins – I needed to download an app for my phone in order to pay and operate the machines. However, the other facilities, including the restrooms and showers, are rather shopworn, and the access roads are in bad shape. Somehow, the seedy nature of the place does not detract from the overall ambience. In fact, we soon began to feel quite mellow while staying at the RV Village – except for one thing. There is one row of permanent sites between the Lake View RV sites and the other RV sites. Most of the occupants of said sites were quiet and unobtrusive, but as luck would have it, the folks directly across the road from us loved to play country music and watch right-wing TV. One day a twangy singer was crooning away, asking “Why are you so angry all the time?” I burst into song myself: “Because of this bleeping country music you play all day long!” The move away from the Lake View site brought more peace, and we were even serenaded by a pair of Great Horned Owls on our last night.

View from our Lake View Site

Valley of Fire State Park: True to our earlier vow, we returned to the State Park for a visit during our stay at Lake Mead. Our drive from the RV Village to the State Park followed a very scenic road entirely within the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, rather than the boring freeway route we previously took from the Oasis Las Vegas campground. While there, we hiked the White Dome Loop trail (where we enjoyed a picnic lunch), stopped at several scenic overlooks, and visited the Atlatl Rock with its dozens of ancient pictographs.

Scenic Route to Valley of Fire State Park
White Dome Loop Trail at Valley of Fire State Park
White Dome Loop Trail
Lunch stop along the trail
Ancient alien aircraft?
Pictographs on Atlatl Rock
Stone Beast overseeing the State Park?
Scenic overlook at Valley of Fire State Park

Boulder Dam Hike: Another day, we hiked from a trailhead near the Lake Mead Visitor Center to Boulder Dam. The trail follows the old railroad line used during construction of the dam back in the 1930s. As such, it is mostly quite flat, with many spectacular views of Lake Mead, and there are even five railroad tunnels along the way. Near the dam, though, the trail gets hillier and I have to admit to some huffing and puffing along the way. Due to Covid restrictions, tours were cancelled and there were very few people at the dam itself, allowing some excellent views without the need for jostling with other visitors. We even stopped for lunch at the cafeteria, and I enjoyed a delicious hot dog at an outdoor table, well isolated from other people.

View of Lake Mead from Old Railroad Trail
Old Railroad Trail
Bighorn Sheep grazing along the trail
View of Lake Mead from Boulder Dam
Colorado River outflow from Boulder Dam
Statue of Construction Worker

By the time we got back to the RV Village, my feet were complaining – in fact my “barking dogs” nearly drowned out the country music. I noted on my phone app that I had taken more than 22,000 steps and covered about 10 miles, which is a bit much for this septuagenarian. But the fond memories of the outstanding day made it all worthwhile.

Scenic Drive: Another day, we retraced a portion of our drive to the Valley of Fire, this time stopping at each and every scenic overlook along the way, including Sunset View, 33 Hole Overlook, Las Vegas Bay Campground, Callville Campground, and some others that I can’t remember the names of. Most of the spots had beautiful views and nice hiking trails, and we stopped at the Callville café for lunch. Yet another nice day at Lake Mead.

Sunset View scenic overlook
Pelicans at 33 Hole Overlook
33 Hole Overlook
View from Callville Marina cafeteria

Golf: Of course, I had to continue golfing. As I said, it’s what I do. I tried several times to book tee times at two nearby Boulder City courses on my Golf Now app, but I was never actually able to get it done for some unknown reason. The nearest course with available tee times turned out to be the infamous Wildhorse course I reported on last time, where I shot an “awful” round and vowed not to return, “unless I decide to prove that I can do better …” I ended up playing at Wildhorse four more times, carding a “semi-decent,” a “pretty stinky,” a “not too bad,” and a final “pretty darned good.” Persistence pays, after all.

The Question Answered: In the previous post, I wrote: “Also, we did add something to our traveling retinue that you can get a glimpse of in the photo below …”

I asked if regular readers noticed something new in this photo

I had also written, “… we rented a car when we got to Las Vegas, and we still do have a car parked at our site.” But I didn’t say the car parked at our site was a rental car. In fact, as you can see in the differently cropped photo below, the car is a brand-new Tesla. (Andy Lindsay was the only regular reader to correctly guess the new item in the photo.)

Now you can see it!

Here’s a full photo of the car at our subsequent location.

We still do have a car parked at our site

We’ve been talking about getting a Tesla for years, wanting to do at least one small thing to help advance the inevitable conversion to electric vehicles. Besides, Teslas are really cool. During our various stretches driving the RV during this Sojourn, we continued to talk about the possibility. When we got to Vegas, we went to the local Tesla dealer to look at one. After several more conversations, Pat convinced me that now was as good a time as any to actually do it. So, we ordered a Model Y on-line (the only way to buy a Tesla), which required a whopping $100 deposit, not knowing when we would actually get it. The estimated delivery on the website was stated as something like February 15 to March 31, but the person at the dealership told us they sometimes become available much sooner. And, lo and behold, we took delivery on January 13! I’ll report further on the Tesla in future episodes.

That’s enough for now. We are still feeling safe and well. Stay tuned as the adventure continues …

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, 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: