2012  HIKING, CYCLING,

& RV TRAVEL ADVENTURES

 

   
 
Runtrails' Web Journal
 
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   SYNOPSIS OF OUR 2011-2012 WINTER TRIP
TO THE DESERT SOUTHWEST

THURSDAY, MAY 10

 
"A kinder, gentler climate, the driving force behind the snowbird migration, is not the only
consideration in choosing where to spend the winter, free from ice, snow, cold winds,   
rain, sleet, and window-rattling storms. RVers choices for a winter roost, though,
are as diverse as their choice of rigs."
 
~ Bob Diffley, who writes a popular RV blog
 
 
I'm writing this two-page entry in May of 2012 to summarize what we did during much of the gap that currently exists on this website from last September to early May. Once I get caught up with all the individual entries I want to share -- hopefully in my lifetime! -- I'll either modify these pages or eliminate them entirely.

The time period this entry covers is December 2, 2011, the date we left our house in Virginia, to April 1, 2012, the date we returned there for a few weeks. That was a total of four months or 121 nights "on the road."

FRUGAL LIVING

This was our least expensive extended RV trip yet in terms of camping costs.

All but two of those nights we slept in our camper at an average cost per day of only $5.79. We spent two nights in motels (I'll explain why in a minute). If you count those costs, our average cost per night  jumps to $6.78 for 121 nights. If we'd spent those two nights in the camper (free at Walmart, in transit) the average would have been a little less than $5.79/night.


Sunset from our campsite at the Imperial Dam LTVA in southern California  (1-24-12)

Not bad, eh? All of our other long RV winter and summer trips have been higher than that even though we boon-dock (dry camp) at free or inexpensive places as much as possible. 

This trip may have been our most expensive one to date as far as fuel costs are concerned, however.

Diesel prices were rather high historically during the winter. Although the camper didn't travel as far as it usually does on our long summer and winter trips -- because we didn't take it to Virginia with us last fall -- we still drove the Cameo 4,408 miles and the truck 9,640 miles during those four months.

IT SEEMED LIKE A GOOD IDEA AT THE TIME . . .

Leaving the Cameo at Ellsworth AFB near Rapid City, SD last fall, I mean. It was the first time we tried that. It may be the last!

We've talked about doing this several times -- storing the camper somewhere out West for several weeks in the spring and fall when we traditionally return to our house in Virginia between our four-to-five-month "summer" and "winter" RV trips. It would save wear and tear on both the Cameo and the truck, save fuel costs, and save time because we can drive faster in just the truck.

There are downsides, of course, and we discovered even more than we'd anticipated last fall. One of the bigger problems was the lousy weather we encountered on the way back out to Ellsworth in early December to retrieve the Cameo.


One of several semis that slid off icy I-70 in western Missouri on 12-3-11

The weather was still quite warm in South Dakota in early October when we left it there -- in the 70s and 80s F., which is above normal for that area.

If we'd left Virginia in mid-November as originally planned we wouldn't have had a problem with the weather. However, we weren't able to leave until early December (long story) and snowstorms were already blanketing New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, the Dakotas, and other states through which we had to drive to reach our destination in Arizona.


Snow and ice cover the left northbound lane of I-29 near Sioux Falls, SD  (12-4-11)

Even though we weren't hauling the camper behind us on the first leg to South Dakota, it was a hairy trip. We covered 1,695 miles in three days; only the first day had good travel weather.

We did get to Ellsworth AFB all right, however, and the camper was fine. Staying in motels two nights en route sucked. We really missed having the Cameo with us when we traveled to our house in October and back out West in early December.


Full moon rising over Ellsworth AFB.  (12-5-11)

Our weather problems continued while we were at Ellsworth, where it was now much colder than normal.

The temperatures were absolutely frigid the three days and nights we spent there before it was safe to drive to Arizona (parts of I-25 in Colorado and New Mexico were closed because of snow and ice). When we arrived at the AFB on December 4 it was in the teens F., with winds of 30-35 MPH. It got down to zero F. and below at night.

At least it was sunny most of the time while we were there!


All ours!  (12-6-11)

Needless to say, we were the only ones in the campground those three nights.

The water was off but the electricity was on so we were able to keep warm. We had to scrounge for water for our spare containers; we couldn't put any water in the camper lines, which had to stay full of anti-freeze until we got someplace warm enough to drain the anti-freeze. Since the campground bathroom was also closed we took showers at the fitness center on base.

Re-packing and stocking the Cameo and getting it ready to travel was about as much fun as when we sold our house in Billings, MT in January, 2004 and began this crazy lifestyle in a HitchHiker 5th-wheel! At least we didn't have to dig the Cameo out of a snowdrift.

SECOND LEG:  SOUTH DAKOTA TO ARIZONA

Fortunately, we arrived in Tucson on December 9 with no big problems during three days of driving 1,341 miles from South Dakota to Arizona.

It was still very cold and most of SD, WY, CO, and NM had several inches of snow but I-25 was clear:


Snow along I-25 between Denver and Colorado Springs  (12-8-11)


More snow on I-25 between Colorado Springs and Santa Fe, NM  (12-8-11)

In transit we feared we had a problem with our Norcold refrigerator/freezer. Apparently it was simply a problem of being too cold outside for several days after we turned it on . . . to keep the unit cold inside. It fixed itself before we took it in for repairs.

Oh, and it was nice to be able to fill the camper tank with water once we reached Tucson and knew it wouldn't freeze.

Early morning scenes along I-25 in southern New Mexico:  mist over a river (above)
and the shadow of our truck/camper cast from the rising sun (below)   (12-9-11)

That little foray from Virginia to Arizona via South Dakota totaled 3,036 miles of fun (NOT), plus some additional miles in the truck while we were in Rapid City.

It would have been about a thousand miles shorter if we'd gone directly from VA to AZ. That negated any fuel savings we had by leaving the camper so far north in the fall. CO or NM would have been better in this case, although it was also snowy there when we returned . . .

Live and learn.

LET THE FUN BEGIN

Once we recovered from that journey we started enjoying ourselves -- and the mostly warm, sunny weather -- in the desert Southwest.


Date palms north of Yuma, AZ in the Imperial Valley  (1-10-12)

This winter trip was the most "fluid," least-planned extended trip we've ever taken. It all worked out OK but we spent plenty of time discussing various options of where, when, and how long we'd stay various places.

It was mostly fun because we explored a lot of places where we've never been before -- and they turned out well.


Jim and Cody hike through colorful hills on the Rainbow Trail at Imperial Wildlife Area.  (1-16-11)

We learned about several of the places we visited for the first time from the website of Dale and Gwen, a full-time RVing couple on the Carriage internet forum. Between 2009 and 2011 they described camping very inexpensively at Imperial Dam LTVA in California, as well as Organ Pipe National Monument, Lake Roosevelt, and Safford in Arizona. They also visited Tucson briefly but didn't stay where we did.

We have thanked them for the good information. Hopefully, when I get around to writing more details about each of these places the information will be useful to others and not just self-indulgent.

DAVIS-MONTHAN AFB, TUCSON, AZ:  DEC. 9-29, 2011

We have never spent any time in the Tucson area before. Although we prefer staying near Phoenix for several reasons it was less expensive for us to stay three weeds in Tucson than at our favorite campground near Phoenix, McDowell Mountain Regional Park.

We're glad we gave Tucson a chance. We found lots of things to enjoy, including the Agave Gulch Campground at Davis-Monthan. We liked it enough to return in March for another week.


We had good neighbors and good views from our site at Agave Gulch in December.  (12-10-11)


Cactus decorated as Santa Claus at a campground host's site at Agave Gulch  (12-10-11)

Agave Gulch CG has both full hook-up sites and dry camping (boon-docking) sites. If we'd realized how long we'd be staying in December we would have moved into the overflow/dry camping area near our site after a few days to get the camper organized and clean inside and out.

Still, $19/night for full hook-ups is a good price nowadays.


Part of the overflow camping area at Davis-Monthan AFB  (12-10-11)

The overflow area is only $8/night, so we'll consider it if we return another winter for an extended stay. We met several folks who stayed all winter in either the overflow or full hook-up area and were still there when we returned in March.

We found some el primo places to hike and ride our bikes, including Sabino and Bear Canyons in the Catalina Mountains north of town and an extensive paved multi-use path along the Rillito River east-west through the city.


Jim waits for me to catch up along the Rillito River greenway in Tucson.  (12-22-11)

We also had miles and miles of safe streets to ride and walk on post, which is renowned for its extensive reliance on solar power. We were impressed with all the solar panels everywhere.

We stayed long enough to explore most of the city in our truck -- local parks, the El Presidio Historic District, Spanish missions and other old buildings, the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum, and most of the Walmarts! <grin>


Cascades flow through striated boulders in Sabino Canyon in northern metro Tucson.  (12-20-11)

We also had to do some exploration of the mountains that lie in every direction around Tucson:

  • north to snowy 9,000+-foot Mt. Lemmon in the Catalinas
  • south to Madera Canyon in the Coronado National Forest
  • east to one of the units of Saguaro National Park
  • west to the other unit of Saguaro NP, Tucson Mountain Park, and Gates Pass


Bighorn sheep at the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum west of Tucson  (12-28-11)

Eventually I'll get around to more details about all of these places, accompanied by dozens of photos.

CAMELBACK RANCH, GLENDALE, AZ:  DEC. 29- JAN. 1

We have run and/or volunteered at the Across the Years (ATY) 72-, 48-, and 24-hour runs held at the end of December for the past several years.

Even though neither of us could participate as runners this time we did decide to volunteer our services once again.


Three of our long-time ultra running friends (L-R, Matt, Paul, and Anne)
are all smiles at the awards ceremony on New Year's Day.  (1-1-12)

It was a good chance to see many of our running friends from all over the country and world and to check out the new venue for the event at the first-class facility used for spring baseball training by the LA Dodgers and Chicago White Sox.


Multi-day running venues don't get much better than this!  (12-29-11)

Also appealing was the opportunity to park our camper free for three nights right near the loop course in a huge parking area at the ball park. Several other runners took advantage of that, too.

Bottom line: we had a good time volunteering and seeing friends. More about this event later, too.

Continued on the next page:  some "cool" new places for us  to camp in the CA and AZ desert -- Imperial Dam, Organ Pipe, Safford, and Lake Roosevelt

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the ultra Lab

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2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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